What to know about moving to Sydney Australia
October 7, 2006 12:21 PM   Subscribe

What should I know to plan a move from US to Australia? What should I take and what should I leave behind? What else should I know about moving to Australia? Where can I get more information?

I'm relocating from San Francisco to Sydney Australia for 4 years or more. What should I take? What should I leave behind? What else should I know about such an international move? Are there companies that just do it all for you?

Move is for work. Company is paying.

Anything I should know about living in Sydney? Any other resources, books, other information available in international moving from US to Australia?

Any other hints or tips about living in Australia as an expatriate?
posted by wanderlust_babe to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I moved from LA to Sydney for two years. I worked and went to school.

It's spring there right now, so I'd pack spring and summer clothing and send over winter clothes.

Depending on when you're moving you could send some things ahead through a company like excess baggage.

I don't think there are any books, besides general travel books, that would help you out with Sydney. I'd get good map of the city, bus and train schedules or Infoline.

You might want to start reading the Sydney Morning Herald to get an idea of what's going on there right now.

Do you know where your office is going to be? If your company hasn't set you up with a place to live, have a look at Domain to check out flats.

Let me know if you have any other specific questions. Sydney is such a great place to live, I miss it!
posted by wilde at 12:57 PM on October 7, 2006

Leave almost everything electrical behind. Australia (and most of the rest of the world) runs on 220 V whereas North America runs on 110. This means that you won't be able to use your electrical stuff without a power converter which, in my experience tend not to work that well. I found it easier just to buy a new hairdryer, etc.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Anything with its own power converter like a laptop will be fine with just a plug adaptor. The range of voltages a given appliance can handle should be printed on its adaptor and it's well worth checking. I'd buy the plug adaptors in the US rather than Australia because they're likely to be cheaper.

Your DVDs won't play in Australian DVD players because of formatting issues (PAL vs NTSC) but if you can't bear to be without some of them, play them on a laptop instead. Most DVD players in this part of the world are region-free even if they claim not to be and will play DVDs bought everywhere except in North America (again, this is because of formatting rather than a region block on your DVD player).

If you're thinking of shipping a bunch of stuff in a container (and since your company is paying for the move, you might as well), it's probably worth fitting as much as you can in the container. It will take a good while to arrive but it will be cheaper than having to replace everything. A friend of mine went so far as to fill space left in a container with plastic clothes hangers! Consumer goods tend to be more expensive in the rest of the world than they are in the United States. Do be aware, though, that Australia's quarantine rules are very strict and they can extend to the importation of certain kinds of wood.

I'd also recommend heading to the travel section of your local book store and picking up an Australian travel guide and, hell, one for Sydney too. Travel guides generally have good cultural and historical overviews and you'll certainly want to do some travelling whilst you're there!

I've often seen practical relocation guides that explain how things are done in the travel section, as well. A quick look at Amazon has turned up Culture Shock! Australia: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette, Living and Working in Australia, Third Edition: A Survival Handbook, and the inventively named Working & Living Australia. Although I haven't read any of them, these guides do things like explain how the health care system works, how to set up a bank account, and other basic cultural expectations.
posted by lumiere at 1:30 PM on October 7, 2006

I lived in Oz for a bit in the early 90s. Absolutely loved that place. One cultural observation I noted, which may or may not still be true, was that they seemed to be in a partial time warp. It's like the zeitgeist had one foot in the present and one in the comparative innocence of the 1950s. That was charming in many ways, and felt wholesome and non-jaded.

One way which might appeal less to women was that it seemed like the effects of the women's movement had not fully manifested there. There just seemed to be more of a quaint old-boy mentality, perhaps tied to that sort of rugged outback ethos (even though most live within 15 minutes of the coast).

Just in doing things like watching a TV commercial or reading some politician's quote, you'd perceive this mindset of women still being viewed in somewhat more traditional ways, almost... what's that word where you speak kindly to someone but with the unexplored assumption that they are somehow less? It's not condescending, or patronizing, it's something a little more benevolent. It's the sort of mindset behind terms such as "little lady," not that I ever heard anyone say that.

I just found that to be an interesting mild cultural difference. Women didn't seem to see themselves that way, and seemed to tolerate it just fine. And I didn't notice it among younger people, so it may be less noticeable overall now.

Don't let that give you a bad preview of the people. I found people there as a whole to be several notches friendlier and more open and laid back than here. It was most enjoyable. It's familiar enough that there's no major culture clash to worry about. Enjoy discovering the interesting differences.

On that note, definitely do read up on culture shock, even if just a one-pager. Even when going somewhere culturally similar, it happens. If you're ready for it, you can recognize the inevitable stages of it and be less put off by it or taken in by it. In fact, it can actually be frustrating to go somewhere ostensibly similar, where they speak the same language, expect things to be similar, and then be confused when something doesn't work like you expect it should. In China, you'd expect everything to be strange. But Australia? WTF, mate?

I hope you like beer. I say Australia has the tastiest beer anywhere. The finest or most complex? Maybe not. But the most delicious, even just the everyday Budweiser equivalents. I'd get permagrin by the same point on my second glass every time. And they deliver(ed)! It wasn't just good as beer, it was good as food.

Also it's fun to wake up and hear birds in the trees out in your yard that you've only ever seen in cages and pet shops. Sometimes I'd just wake up smiling. We've got robins and bluejays, they've got... why, rainbow lorikeets and king parrots! Beat that! (I was mostly up in Brisbane, btw)

You're going to eat the Vegemite. Yes you are. It'll be an odd novelty at first, and you'll write it off after that first try. And then one day sometime later, its salty black goodness will begin to call you.

Sydney is one of the most visually satisfying places I've been to. It feels great to be there. What a great mix of environments they've got. I thought it was one of the cleanest cities I'd ever seen, too. I hypothesized that a small army of janitorial gnomes would come out every night and very quietly scrub everything down.

As for what to take and what to leave behind, I'd leave behind most of your basic electrical gizmos. Using adapters is a pain. If you'll be there for a while, might as well just get them there and sell/shed them when you leave. And it's a cosmopolitan city in a modern country. I don't think there will be too much you can't find there that we have here. Random note - Christmas is in the middle of summer, which is an odd difference. Who barbecues at Christmas? Your new neighbors, that's who.

Get Skype and Skype Out, or some equivalent for calls home.

Have a great time. Oh, and be sure to get down to NZ.
posted by kookoobirdz at 1:36 PM on October 7, 2006

Basic culture shock overview. Like GI Joe said - Knowing is half the battle.
posted by kookoobirdz at 1:52 PM on October 7, 2006

Oh, forgot. If you have leisure time, a very enjoyable and humorous read on Australia is Bill Bryson's In A Sunburned Country, from 2001. Having lived there and having read this book, I got two overlapping but different impressions. His was more detached but much more varied. It covers a lot of the places you probably won't go, and would be nice background flavor for your experience as a whole. This guy is really funny.
posted by kookoobirdz at 2:08 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Paging web-goddess... She just became a Oz citizen.

As far as leaving behind all your electronics, I wouldn't do that. I moved to Korea almost two years ago, and before I left I sold what I had and used the money to replace all my daily-use electronics with dual-voltage devices. That way, I can keep them when I moved back to the States, and all I need is a plug adapter to use them.

But seriously, check web-goddess' profile and PM her.
posted by Brittanie at 3:56 PM on October 7, 2006

Your DVDs won't play in Australian DVD players because of formatting issues (PAL vs NTSC) ... Most DVD players in this part of the world are region-free

Yup, most DVD players are region-free - and also multi-standard (PAL/NTSC). Almost all TVs sold in the last 10 years are too, so that's not a problem. Bring your DVDs and enjoy them.
posted by Pinback at 3:57 PM on October 7, 2006

Make sure if work is paying to move you out they will also pay to move you back, otherwise you may wind up in Sydney with an assload of personal items that are expensive to ship back to the US. One thing I remember from travelling with my Australian friends was that they had much stricter requirements on how much baggage they could bring on airplanes [someone tell me if this is no longer true] so it was hard to move and sort of use your extra baggage allowance to "ship" stuff with you.

There will definitely be a MeFi meetup in Sydney in March (I'll be out for a visit!) so keep half an eye towards MetaTalk if you'll be out there by then.
posted by jessamyn at 4:04 PM on October 7, 2006

Living in Sydney - I recommend the eastern suburbs. The north shore is nice but very expensive, and there are better beaches (coogee, bondi etc) south of the harbour.
posted by Lucie at 4:43 PM on October 7, 2006

Thanks for the head's up, Brittanie. Yeah, I moved to Sydney about five years ago. Just got my citizenship last week.

The stuff about what to bring is basically all right. Go ahead and bring your DVDs; there are plenty of region free players that will play them. Besides, DVDs are stupid expensive here. Whenever we visit the fam in the States, we stock up on them. Computers and iPods and stuff will all be fine.

Despite being American, I actually moved out here from London (where I was working at the time). We did the sea freight thing for most of our stuff, including my partner's bigass computer monitor. You'll want to check whether you (or your company) are going to get hit for import duty. The law when we came out five years ago was that anything less than 18 months old (and expensive) "could be assessed" for a charge. Make sure you bring receipts for anything and everything, because if you don't have one, they'll have to make up a price to tax you on. (And they'll probably use the Aussie price, which is higher than the American.) We got lucky; even though the bigass monitor was only a few months old, we declared it honestly and they didn't assess us any tax. This stuff doesn't apply to tourists, but if you're coming for that long it may apply to you.

Definitely read Bryson's book. (It's called "Down Under" in the UK and Australia.) Best introduction to the Australian mindset I could've got.

Are you planning to get a license here? Tourists are allowed to drive on their American one, but if you're staying that long they may required you to get an Australian one. The good news is, they just recently changed the law and USians no longer have to take any test. You just need a letter from your DMV stating how long you've had your license. It might be a good idea to get this ahead of time, so you don't have to go through the faxing BS nightmare I had with the Indiana DMV. Whether you actually will need a car depends on what suburbs they put you up in. I'm relatively close to the city and we get along just fine without one. It's helpful to be located near a big train or bus route. The middle of Sydney's also pretty walkable, so get into the mindset now of hitting the pavement.

In terms of clothes, Sydney doesn't get super cold. Yeah, I have a few sweaters, but I wear them maybe two months out of the year (June/July). I've got a long wool coat, and to be honest that's as much as you need unless you're planning to go skiing or something. Gloves maybe, a beanie maybe, but don't pack your long johns or anything. You won't need 'em.

Stuff you won't be able to get here very easily, so gorge now: Little Debbie Cakes. Mexican food (from Taco Bell up to the real authentic places; we don't have much). Any candy that has peanut butter in it, like Twix or Reese's. Cool Whip. Toaster Strudel. Twinkies. American-style pancakes (unless you learn to make them yourself). Boone's Farm. Pumpkin pie. Grape jelly. Instant pudding. But most of this stuff is crap, really.

Stuff to look forward to: Tim Tams. Beer. The best seafood in the world. (As a Hoosier, I used to think I didn't like seafood. Turns out I was just eating the wrong stuff.) Real coffee made by Italian baristas who know what they're doing. (But yeah, Starbucks is everywhere here too.) Meat pies. LAMB. (Lamb is sooo good. Try it.) The best Thai food outside of Thailand.

In terms of living here as an expatriate - life is pretty good, actually. I never bothered to register with the consulate or anything like that, mostly because I was applying for Permanent Residency right away. You may want to do that. Most everybody here is friendly towards Americans, and if they're wary all it usually takes is a mention that I think George Bush is a giant tool for them to come around. As I told my Mom when she came to visit last April - you ARE going to see some anti-American graffiti and stuff. It's not about us, the people. It has more to do with Australians' perception of their government's relation to us, and how they resent that Howard simply goes along with everything Bush says. In five years I've only come across one person who held my nationality against me, and that was some slag in line at the post office. I laughed her off.

Note: Being called a "seppo" (from rhyming slang: "septic tank" = "Yank") is actually a GOOD thing. Australians usually only insult their mates in this way, and it's a good-natured give-as-you-get type of thing. Don't worry about it.

There are other Americans here, and you can find them if you want to commiserate. I made a conscious effort to not go that route when I moved out here. There are plenty of messageboards for expatriate Americans living over here, and some of them are just really heartbreaking. Women who come over to live with their husband, get pregnant, and spend all their time cooped up in a house in a town where they don't know anybody, whinging about how much they'd kill for a Twinkie. It's just sad. So try not to dwell on all the differences. Try new things and meet new people. Go to the cricket. Get the touristy stuff out of your system quick. Don't spend all your time at Starbucks and McDonalds. You've only got this opportunity once, right?

That said, a few of my best friends here are American. Gadgetgirl and Yank in Oz have been here even longer than I have. And at the most recent MeFi meetup, I met qwip and his partner, who have a journal about moving out here. My own emigration experience started in October 2001.

So welcome aboard, and good on ya, mate. You're going to love it here. (I did.) Drop me a line if you have anymore questions. And at the very least, I'll see you at the JessaMeetUp!
posted by web-goddess at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Previous commeters have covered pretty much everything you need to know, so I'll add some sorta trivial stuff.

I found it very useful to keep a US bank account, especially if you are not planning on making the move permanent. If you have a US credit card or student loans, etc, it has been easier for me to pay from that account.

Depending on where you are used to doing your clothes and shoes shopping, you might find that those are more expensive here.

The food here is great, but I found I couldn't get the plain oat Cheerios. Oh, how I wanted my Cheerios.! I've had a couple of friends bring a box back for me after trips to the US. Also, if you are a hot sauce fan, you can get Tabasco and Sriracha, so if you like anything else, bring it yourself.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 4:59 PM on October 7, 2006

Ack! I forgot the bill-paying stuff, which is my biggest headache. DEFINITELY keep your US account. I don't have one anymore, which means the only way for me to pay my effing student loans is by sending a telegraphic transfer, which costs me TWENTY-TWO EFFING DOLLARS. Grrr.

Also - there's no Gap or Old Navy here. If they make the jeans that fit you best, buy a bunch now. Jeans are expensive here.

And lastly - if you bring me a Nike+iPod kit, I will pay you back and personally throw a genuine Aussie barbecue in your honour. (The damn things aren't out here yet.)
posted by web-goddess at 5:12 PM on October 7, 2006

As a Australian: welcome! come on down!

I can't think of any specific advice for moving that hasn't been covered here already, but I will make a special request for you- please show us that you're actually an alright bunch of people. For too many people here, their concept of Americans is made up of Hollywood, Jerry Springer, and George Bush.

I've been over to your part of the world a few times and I know that by and large you're all wonderful people, but some of my countrymen like to pay you out (pay you out = Australian for 'insult you') for being the arrogant, stupid, self-righteous pricks they falsely assume you are. So: prove them wrong! Please!

Also, it might be worth finding out what a dropkick, a dag, a drongo and a bogan are. It'll be a great conversation starter with any local to ask them what a bogan actually is.
posted by twirlypen at 6:11 PM on October 7, 2006

Most everything's been covered already. I'll just add that Australian's are a sports-mad culture. Not just watching it, but participating in some form of organised sport most weekends. It's a great way to get to know people too.

I moved to Australia (Melbourne, a nicer place IMO :) ) a couple of years ago and have loved it. Enjoy yourself and don't be surprised if 4 years develops into a longer-term stay.
posted by michswiss at 6:57 PM on October 7, 2006

As the for the whole 'paying out' business, don't take too much to heart. We Aussies love a good piss-take (giving shit) of each other and ourselves.

You'll get used to the finer points of Aussie culture (a slightly different tipping culture, differences in language) pretty quickly. Others noticing your American accent (and trust me, they will, or at the very least confuse it with a Canadian accent) will be forgiving of your actions (an example from my work experience is that occasionaly Americans tend to tip in inappropriate circumstances, or that 'thong' means something else entirely here).

My American next door neighbour tells me that some conventions took time for her to get used to (namely the ritual of the 'tea break'). She also told me she was surprised by the extent of multiculturalism in Sydney (Unlike the hordes of blondes you may have seen on Lost. In fact over a third of Sydney's residents were born overseas).

I'll also mention that there are many words that Australians don't pronounce phonetically, yet Americans always do, particularly city names. To name a few:
Melbourne is 'mel-bon'
Brisbane is 'bris-ben'
Canberra is 'can-bra'
Aussie is "Ozzie"
Your accent won't be a problem but things like that sure can tick some people off.

Finally don't be one of those people who never leave the CBD. Sydney is a huge city, a lot larger than many people realise, and has many great surprises all across it. And I'm talking about more than Newtown, Glebe, Surry Hills and the other city-adjacent suburbs.

And good luck. It's a great city and you're coming in to what seems like a fine summer. I'm sure you're gonna love it.
posted by Serial Killer Slumber Party at 11:59 PM on October 7, 2006

Everything has been covered pretty well, but I will add my $0.02.

Just bring clothes and put all your other stuff in storage in the US. You can find plenty of furnished apartments here and they are usually only around $50 to $100 more a week than unfurnished. Oh, and rent is listed by the week, but you pay by the month (odd, that).

It's coming into summer here and it will be in the 80's and up to the low 100's by December. Buy clothes in the US, as they are more expensive here and the selection is much more narrow. Also styles may not be what you are in to.

Don't bring any electronics other than computers, and probably a laptop at that. You can use converters, but stuff tends to fry anyway. Anything that has a built in 220 converter (like most modern computers) will be fine with an adapter.

I'd suggest living in the city so you don't have to get a car, but that's up to you. We've been here over a year and don't need a car - and can hire one easily and cheaply. If you are on a business Visa you don't ever need to get an Australian license. Just continue to use your US one. Just make sure it won't expire soon.

Sydney is a good city to live in, but you will find the cost of living expensive, even in the outlying areas. Keep that in mind when budgeting for things.

Definitely keep a US bank account. It isn't that problematic to open an account here, but getting a credit card can be a pain. You can use your US one and just pay it from your US account. Lucky for me I work for a Bank and was able to get a credit card without issue as an employee, although we were also able to get an Australian AMEX account based on our US one.

I can give you much more accurate advice with some specific information on what kind of place you like to live in, what your budget for a place will be, what you like to do in your spare time, etc. Email is in the profile, feel free to contact us.

Oh, and welcome to Sydney!
posted by qwip at 6:35 AM on October 8, 2006

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