moving to Sydney with kids
April 6, 2007 9:34 AM   Subscribe

My husband has just been offered a job in Sydney, Australia. We have two sons, 6 and 9. We currently live in the US. While we are extremely excited about moving, we know nothing about Australia. Ive read the travel books, but am trying to find out about schools, housing, etc. we should be moving in late June. Any info would be great. Thanks in advance!
posted by BaugusC to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Congrats on the job move. I was there only once for about 7 or 8 days and I will have to say that the Aussies are among the most friendly and laid back people I have ever met. It was very easy to talk to people and they were very helpful to this Australian noob.
posted by mmascolino at 9:56 AM on April 6, 2007

Congrats! I don't have any input about schools/housing, but one point to be worried about is economics. If you ever intend to return to the US, don't forget that if he's being paid in australian dollars, the Oz $ is worth less than the US $.

This means that you will want to keep your savings in the States if at all possible, and transfer money back here. If you move it to Oz, you'll find you have a LOT of money by Australian standards, which hides that your cash flow's buying power is less in stateside dollars. Once you try to take that economic power back here to the States, you'll find that you're suddenly poorer than when you left by US standards.
posted by SpecialK at 10:08 AM on April 6, 2007

Do you know where your husband will be working yet? Otherwise, where you live will be greatly dictated by your income. Also, how long are you planning to stay, and what type of visas are you under? You may be subject to the Temporary Residents Program if you want your kids to attend public schools.

Congratulations! It's a lovely city.
posted by goo at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2007

Here are a couple of posts that I've answered in the past about moving from the US to Australia:

Banking between countries
Sydney lifestyle

Schools and housing are really tough without knowing your income/lifestyle requirements, including how far of a commute your husband may want from home to work. Generally, it's going to be best to choose a home location that is close to the train lines, because nearly everyone uses them to get to school and work. Cars are super expensive in Australia and the public transportation is awesome for getting around.

Try this link to get a general idea of the train lines and the suburbs they service:


I lived in various areas along the "North Shore" which will show up as the red and yellow lines on the maps of the trains. It's a little more expensive than some areas, but my husband grew up there so I didn't really have to research locations much.

As for schools, you'll have to decide about what type you like. There are public and private and then co-ed and single-sex schools. Uniforms are the standard, so prepare your kids for that now if they're not used to that. I didn't have kids when I lived there, so my help with that is limited, but I'm sure others will step up and help in that area.

A few more random links to check out:

Sydney guide
City of Sydney
Sydney, New South Wales

Finally, you may want to read a couple of books:

Culture Shock Australia

This book was great in learning some of the differences in cultures, including phrases, slang, etc. I found this to be a great little resource of things that may baffle you, but aren't earth-shattering.

Living/Working in Australia

This book is practical and goes over things like driver's licenses, tax numbers, etc.

Good luck to you and the family! One last bit of advice. Please do your best to integrate as much as possible in the culture. You'll be homesick for the smallest things, like "free refills on soda" or trying to find "peanut butter flavored candy" and instead being asked to try a "musk stick candy" ... just go with the flow and you'll have a much easier time adapting. Oh, and think of lamb as the new beef in your life - it's everywhere and cheap!

Feel free to email me (see profile) if you have questions you think I might be able to help you with. Sydney is an amazing city to live in and you will absolutely love your time there. Cheers!
posted by cyniczny at 10:48 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

One thing to note: the school year in Australia is different. Since you will be moving at the end of the school year (here) you should be able to enroll them directly into the next school year there, causing them to "gain" a year. (Disclaimer: they may be ticked at losing a summer break.) (My best friend in 3rd grade moved from the US to there.)
posted by anaelith at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

It depends on the birthdate of the child, anaelith. Children born before April 30 will most likely go into the next year, those born afterwards will most likely have to stay. School in NSW is infant school: kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 (age 5 - 7); primary school: grades 3 to 6 ( 8 - 11); high school grades 7 - 12 (12-17).
posted by goo at 11:29 AM on April 6, 2007

You are the third person I have heard of in a month who is moving to Australia due to work! There must be something in the water.

In all 3 cases, whomever is hiring that person is responsible for providing just about everything - visas, relocation costs, cost of private school. They are even being flown out so that they can find someplace to live in. The companies seem to be large enough that they seem to have entire offices devoted to this kind of thing.

Does your husband's company have a relocation office that will help with this?

...dying of envy...

I have been to Australia several times and if I had to live in a major city, Sydney would be it. Have a great time!
posted by HeyAllie at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2007

If I had to move out of the US, it would be to Australia. I'm from L.A. originally and Sydney reminded me, in many ways, of my hometown. I sort of think of Sydney as L.A. and Melbourne as S.F equivalents in culture.

Moving in June, you will miss summer. But the climate in Sydney is moderate. The country is beautiful. And the eucalyptus forests are great (when they aren't on fire).

Best of luck. It sounds like a great adventure for your family.
posted by Taken Outtacontext at 12:30 PM on April 6, 2007

My parents lived in Australia for 3 years with my four younger brothers (ages 14, 11, 8 and 5 at the time of the move) while I finished high school and went to college in the U.S. They were there from 1995 to 1999.

They found that public schools in Australia did not meet the same level of academic rigor as we were accustomed to in our pretty-affluent public school district, and opted to send my brothers to a private school. It is my understanding that private schooling is much more common even among ordinary middle class families in Australia than in the U.S.

Something else to be aware of with schooling: the Australian school year overlaps the U.S. school year by about 6 months, so if you don't plan carefully about your move and return to the U.S., your children could wind up a year behind academically when you move back.

My parents were in Perth, which is much smaller than Sydney and on the opposite coast, and I'm sure a lot has changed since the late '90s, but they found a much more conformist/non-multicultural culture than they had expected. Although there is some acknowledgment that Australia, with its huge landmass and tiny population, must rely to some degree on immigration to grow economically, there's a lot of racism and fear of the Asians who make up the most logical immigrant groups. The country also has a history of treating its Aboriginal population poorly, and still hasn't figured out what to do about that. Racism is different in Oz than in the U.S., but it definitely still exists.

Sydney is supposed to have a thriving gay community, so this is probably very different than Perth, but homophobia was a big problem for my family, too. There were a number of openly gay or bi-curious people at my U.S. high school. When one of my brothers began to explore his sexual identity in his Australian high school, however, he found the response of students and teachers so oppressive that he eventually dropped out.

I probably sound like I'm completely dissing Oz, and I don't mean to do that at all. I really loved spending my U.S. summers/Aussie winters there, and flying out for Christmas barbecues on the beach. Australian's love American accents just as much as we love theirs, and the people of the already friendly country became even more welcoming whenever we opened our mouths. I think you'll have a great time. Best of luck.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:10 PM on April 6, 2007

Didn't grow up in Sydney, but have lived here for 6 years now. I will first say that houses are overpriced here. The place went through a real boom in the late nineties/early twenties, and it seems everybody is holding onto the dream that their place is worth a fortune. Do not be surprised at what people will want for tiny, shitty places. It's the most expensive city to live in Australia, and you'll soon find out why.

/ends rant of being a student trying to live in an expensive city/

Some more useful information:

There are a couple of basics regarding housing here. The first general rule is (which is true of most, if not all cities) is: The closer to the city, the more expensive. The second general rule is: The closer to the water it is, the more expensive it is.

Geographically, you can break the city into 5 regions - which you will hear in everyday use, so will be useful to know: The Eastern Suburbs, the Inner West, the North Shore, the West, and the "Shire".

The Eastern Suburbs (Bondi, Edgecliff, Rose Bay, Watson's Bay etc.) is by far the most expensive area to live in Sydney (and thus in the entire country, I guess). People there are generally well-educated and well-paid. Funnily enough, the government used to shove all the unsightly immigrants out east (back in the 50s), and they all became rich off the property boom in the 70s and 80s.

The Inner West is somewhat different, although becoming an increasingly popular place to live. If you're looking at a map, it's the region that includes Glebe, Newtown, Annandale, Camperdown, Petersham, Stanmore, Ashfield all the way out to pretty much Strathfield.

The North Shore covers a fair bit of territory. It's generally pretty affluent, and there's enough business on this side of the Harbour that some people can live their lives here without having to commute to the city. Suburbs from Mosman and Neutral Bay, across to almost Epping, and as far north as Hornsby are part of the North Shore. You'll find a wide variety of pricing here. Some places can be very expensive (Cremorne, Mosman, Neutral Bay), while other suburbs (Lane Cove, Chatswood) are not too bad. A lot of the top schools do seem to be in the North Shore, and that's one of the reasons you'll find suburbs that are further north (and further away from the city and water) are more expensive. Hornsby and Pymble and surrounding areas are considered very good places to live (especially with children).

The West is the least affluent part of Sydney, and the term is used kind of vaguely. I think it refers to all the suburbs west of Parramatta, but most people think of Penrith and Blacktown when they hear the term. Most likely to be the cheapest place to live, and the longest daily commute to the city. I don't know anything about the schooling there.

Finally, there's the Shire, which is situated far enough south of Sydney to require a pretty long commute, but has the advantage of being not too expensive (compared to other parts of the city), and closer to beaches (Sylvania, Sutherland, Waterfall). I always think of the Shire as representative of the quintessential suburban lifestyle. People live in houses, and have back yards.

There are a few places that are hard to fit into these regions, places that are actually pretty good places to live for middle income earners. Places near Strathfield, or Concord, or Epping. They represent the middle ground. Far enough away from the CBD to be not so expensive, and close enough to enjoy some of the city's wealth.

You will love it here. It is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and we are pretty friendly, even to Americans ;-)

Also, croutonsupafreak is correct in what he says about the schooling here. Private schooling is very big here compared to other countries. Especially for high school. And in Sydney, it's not cheap.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:21 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

I spent two years there when I was 10-12, and it was a fabulous experience, though a bit of a hard adjustment. This was in the early 80s, so undoubtedly some things have changed. Some things I can think of:
-it was the subtle differences that were most disconcerting-like butter and cheddar and white bread all tasted just a little bit different.
-it was hard to adjust to wearing a school uniform, though I was OK w/it in the end. It would probably have been harder to try and dress "right".
-Some things in school were really different: standing when the teacher came in, no cafeteria but lunch orders that we filled out in the morning, ruling red lines down the sides of all of our exercise books.
-Our school gave a good education. It was a public school but we were in Canberra and a lot of diplomat kids went to our school. We did cool independent projects and went on waaaay more field trips than we did in the States-to the opera and things like that.
-People were generally friendly, though there is the normal kid-suspicion.
-I came from Montana, so it was much more diverse than my experience, which we liked.
-My folks lived in Sydney with my younger sister in the late 80s. I know my mom was frustrated by a more blatant sexism (for instance, the university employing my father asked his permission before offering her a job in the early 80s) but I imagine that's much better now.

I still have a friend from my childhood who visits's fabulous. We'll be back someday.
posted by purenitrous at 3:27 PM on April 6, 2007

mosman is your suburb. by the water, the zoo, near the city... a wonderful ferry ride away for your other arf to get to work and a gazillion expats so the schools are well set up for people like you.

it's where all the people in your situation end up, in my experience. and the school most frequented by expats is sceggs redlands. google it.

best of luck, i think you'll love sydney.
posted by taff at 3:55 PM on April 6, 2007

Um, are you able to provide any more information on your tastes & lifestyle?

"We're moving to Sydney & have two kids" isn't a huge amount to go on when trying to make any kind of recommendation.

Having said that, and having grown up in the Shire (see kisch mokush's comment), I would recommend somewhere close to a beach as being ideal for a couple of boys. This means anywhere along the coast, effectively. Which suburbs exactly I cannot say without knowing where your husband's workplace will be.

That's about all I can say until I hear more about you, other than that there are a bunch of us mefites in Sydney who would be more than willing to advise & help etc (heh - landing the others in it!). For my own part, I have lived here all my life, apart from annual stints backpacking, so hopefully can be of some assistance :)
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 PM on April 6, 2007

oh, i think taff is thinking of scegs redlands.

sceggs = sydney church of england girls grammar school
scegs = sydney church of england grammar school (all-boys), more commonly known as "shore" or "the shore school"

scegs redlands = coed version of the above

if you're all cashed up, the top private schools for boys are mostly "GPS" (greater public schools) or "CAS" (combined associated schools, i think). each of those is an association of around 8 schools that play sports against each other, etc - if you think british public schools (eton, harrow) & "old school tie networks", that's where these institutions try to place themselves.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:44 PM on April 6, 2007

Please take note that which suburb you end up and to a lesser extent which school your kids will go to will have quite an impact. While what croutonsupafreak said about Perth was certainly true of the time and to a lesser extent still is, it is quite the contrary in Melbourne and Sydney.

While it's a bit off, you should start considering your sons' highschools soon. If they're brighter than the average kid their age, definitely consider applying them for one of the 21 selective-entry high schools in NSW. These are all public schools, but far and away much better than any of the other public schools or private schools in terms of education.

I say this because unfortunately the NSW system is much like the Victorian system just south of the border. Most public schools are fairly mediocre and some private schools aren't much better. This means that for parents who can't afford AU$9,000+ for the better private schools, the only option is applying for one of the two single-sex selective-entry highschools in Melbourne. While there are a lot of kids (~6000) competing for few places (~330 boys and ~170 girls), it's worth a shot - the education your boys will receive at these schools will be much better. Also, these schools are very multi-cultural; there is no definite majority at my school - this alone will be a learning experience for your kids.

If you have any other questions about the education system, feel free to ask me.
posted by PuGZ at 4:48 PM on April 6, 2007

a correction: Redlands is SCECGS, i think. the second c = coed.

on education again: for primary school aged kids (ie up to about 11-12yo) i think a government school is perfectly fine. these are free, or there might be a very very nominal fee. most parents taking the private school option do so only in high school (12-18yo).

i am not sure if PuGZ is entirely correct in saying that the selective govt schools are far and away much better than any of the other public schools or private schools in terms of education.

in sydney, there are some definitely very successful selective govt high schools. for boys, these would probably be sydney boys high, north sydney boys, james ruse agricultural college, fort street, um, not sure if there are any others that are any good, um, maybe sydney technical high.

as far as i understand it, these all have their own catchment areas, and it could pay to choose a home within one of those.

OTOH, these schools are proud of their ability to match the best of the private schools academically (sydney grammar school has probably always been the best of the best in this sense, govt or private), but with the private schools you probably get a lot more of the extracurricular niceties, like tennis courts, swimming pools, orchestras, audio-visual studios, decent computer labs, hell, throw in rifle ranges, flight simulators, heaps of theatrical & musical productions, army cadets, debating, and a wide range of sports from rifle shooting to fencing to rugby & rowing & cricket. overall, i have no idea how one of the selective govt schools will give a "much better" education. at best, as i understand it, they will have a similar proportion of people get into law or medicine.

if you are thinking of private schools (down the track! - but there are often waiting lists, so think ahead!) it's probably good to check which of the private schools are selective & which are just whoever-can-pay. sydney grammar is selective, i think shore is, too. i went to a non-selective one (newington college - because unlike Grammar, they weren't stingy & offered a full scholarship, not a pissy half one) and it was (and remains) very multicultural. the academic results seem not so good on paper, but only because the entire bell curve is represented, not a deliberate two-std-devs-above-the-norm, but that never hampered any of the top students.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:03 AM on April 7, 2007

Can't help with the education side of things, but kisch's catagorisation of Sydney is pretty standard. However, kisch's opinion of the Shire is not, ma being slightly many people being slightly wary of it - I lived there for three years, I've seen the reactions. (I'm also not sure where exactly the beach is in sutherland, given that it's half an hour inland) It's very much an anglosaxon monoculture in a very diverse city, and if the phrase "God's own country" worries you, stay away.

Sydney is so big, that people identify with the area of sydney they live in quite strongly, and so where you choose to live will greatly affect your experience. If your husband is working centrally, anywhere on a train line would work. If he's not working centrally, then that'll be your starting point. Coming in in June, I'd suggest finding somewhere to rent for six months in an area you like the look of, before trying to buy (which is very expensive, by Australian stds).
posted by kjs4 at 8:12 AM on April 7, 2007

I'm also not sure where exactly the beach is in sutherland, given that it's half an hour inland

A typo on my behalf. I was trying to refer to suburbs in the Shire, not it's beaches.

My personal experience with the Shire is limited. I know two people who grew up there, and they're a couple of my best friends. I've heard all sorts of stories (good and bad) about the place, but without having seen anything first hand, I'm not about to shit all over a region of Sydney for no reason. I don't know what the most common opinion of the place is.
posted by kisch mokusch at 3:42 PM on April 7, 2007

Fair enough kisch. I am probably oversensitive, having just run away from the place:)

Anyway, Sydney is big, diverse, busy, ugly and beautiful. I'm sure you find a place to call home.
posted by kjs4 at 5:54 AM on April 9, 2007

In fairness, UbuRoivas is much more knowledge on the subject than I am. I can only speak for the Victorian system, with which I am familiar. I falsely assumed that the system in NSW was more or less the same, but many thanks to UbuRoivas for clearing that up both for the asker and myself :)
posted by PuGZ at 5:16 PM on April 11, 2007

Ah, I dunno. I think we're possibly both seeing mainly our own sides of the coin, although one of my sisters attended a state selective high school (St George Girls'), which is certainly right up there academically, so I might have some perspective on the state selective schools.

Not sure how the Victorian system works, but in Sydney there is a core group of schools that regularly comes out on top, in terms of the number of students with very high graduation scores (university entrance scores, or "TERs"). In those terms, the selective private schools and selective state schools are neck-and-neck, and there is no denying the fact that Sydney Boys, North Sydney Boys, James Ruse & Fort Street do very well.

It's just that if you have the cash to throw around, I think the private schools offer a more rounded experience, with so much extracurricular stuff on offer (not that the state schools don't do at least some of these things...Sydney Boys, for example, is part of the GPS, and therefore has all the competitive stuff: rowing, rugby, cricket, debating, etc. It's just that they suck at all of them).

OTOH, I tend to also think that the private schools are breeding grounds for prattish yuppie wankers with huge egos & massive senses of self-entitlement, as opposed to maybe more freethinking, anarchistic selective state graduates.
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:08 PM on April 11, 2007

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