15 Things I’ve Learned Living as an Expat in Australia for One Year

Somehow an entire year has passed since I moved to Sydney in January 2016. Although I’m by no means an expat expert, I’ve had a lot of time these past 365 days to muse over a few top things I’ve learned since moving to Australia. Some are good, some not so good. And all the 100% opinion of yours truly. Here are the 15 Things I’ve Learned (so far) Living as an Expat in Australia for One Year, with no scale of magnitude and in no particular order:

  1. Wow, such an astoundingly beautiful quality of life with incredible beach access – no matter where you live in or around Sydney, you’re probably a 15-20 minute drive to some kind of fantastic beach. And if you drive just a bit further, the beach points get exponentially more stunning. Whether you want the beautiful chaos of Bondi, the wilderness of Burning Palms or the clothing-optional risqué of Little Congwong, there is something for everybody. If SCUBA diving is your thing, there’s Kurnell, Bare Island, Shelly Beach, Camp Cove…the list goes on. You can go diving in the AM and still have the entire rest of a Saturday to relax and enjoy. The beaches are intrinsic to Sydney culture and it seems Aussie culture as a whole – being outdoors in the sun near the ocean is just (clap) what (clap) you (clap) do. Outdoor cafes, gorgeous neighborhoods – honestly, it’s just lovely here.
  2. I’ll never again live somewhere that gets painfully cold – Australia has totally shifted my perception on what I find acceptable in terms of winter cold. Here, our coldest day during 2016 was about 9 degrees celsius (48 degrees fahrenheit). But that was one, single day! Otherwise, it really never dropped below 10C/50F. And I’m here to tell you, the thought of surviving through any future freezing, bitter winters has been eradicated from my life list. Experiencing my first summer Christmas was certainly odd but at this point, I’m thinking YEA, worth it.
  3. Domestic flights are crazy expensive – you’ll be supremely thankful you live near some great beaches as domestic flights within Australia are crazy pricey. This is because there are really only two major airlines who own the market – Qantas (with its cheaper JetStar subsidiary) and Virgin Australia. To get from Sydney in NSW to Perth in WA can be $600-$800. Which leads to my next point…
  4. You might even journey more frequently to other countries rather than explore Oz – when you can get to New Zealand for $300 or Bali for $400 airfare, you totally start to question the ability to really adventure through AU. Sure, you can hop in a campervan and be a bit more bohemian about it but if you’re wanting just the occasional getaway long weekend, you’ll regularly end up off-continent.
  5. Oh hell, the whole cost of living here is intense – major Aussie cities have been on an economic boom for decades. A small cottage style home in the main Inner West burbs will be over $1M and renting a 3-bedroom new apartment is going to run you $2K a fortnight (AKA ‘every two-weeks’ for my American friends). You couple that with previous observations I’ve had about food costs (breakfast for two will usually be around $60) and you can imagine how quickly you can burn up your cash. Now, it’s not all gloom and doom. Dining prices are largely driven by two factors – workers are paid a living wage across all industries (which I am hugely supportive of) and produce costs can be high especially for anything requiring import. Real estate, on the other hand, seems to be driven partially by Chinese investment here and rapidly escalating values of property among other economic factors (Updated: 10 Mar 2017). If you bought a house here 10-20 years ago, you are sitting on a goldmine. But you’re also paying for the lifestyle…like I said above, pretty much everyone has access to a beach somewhere and that’s hard to put a price tag on!
  6. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s costs $12 – I know it seems odd to call this out as its own observation but this one nearly made me die. Has it ever stopped me from buying a pint when I’m swirling down an ice cream-crazed shame spiral? Well of course not. But I still cringe. And thankfully there is the glorious magic of a Golden Gaytime ice cream bar which is my favorite local sweet treat. Subversive perfection!
  7. Coffee culture in Australia is ridiculously, fabulously amazing – I’ve been back to the states twice since moving to Oz and have attended several meetings in other countries…and frequently you encounter that sad, drip coffee or the Starbucks behemoth. I can promise you, within a few weeks of living here, Australia’s quality and expertise with espresso will ruin you for ever. You’ll arrogantly sniff at drip and eye-roll at Starbucks. There is just nothing like a local flat white or long black!
  8.  Your brain eventually reprograms to the local universe – I think I’m a slow learner (read as ‘stubborn’) but eventually over the course of 6-9 months, the Aussie accent started to seem less pronounced, using the metric system became commonplace and preferred, being on the left-side of the road felt normal, swapping out Zs for Ss in writing became habit (optimise, realise, etc.) …all the smallish things that really put your brain through a re-wiring kind of just fall in to place. I can’t imagine the added challenge of also having to learn a 2nd language, so I have much respect for those who are expats and developing a foreign tongue. Bravo!
  9. But your brain will never stop missing things from home – 12 months later and there are still preferred brands that I miss and make Daniel import during his frequent USA business trips. Mostly just small sundries for the bathroom and such but I still can’t find an equivalent I’m willing to try! Again, stubborn. 😉
  10. Amazon Prime isn’t here yet oommmgggg – yea, really. And it kind of makes sense given how large the country is relative to population size that the profit margin would be tougher for Amazon. But, man, do I miss it! Loved the old days of building up a shopping cart, clicking submit and seeing it all arrive 48 hours later. The good news is that Amazon Prime is coming to Australia in 2017. Fingers crossed it’s priced well!
  11. Internet speed is so…damn…s   l   o   w – This was probably one of the biggest shockers for me. Bugs and snakes and spiders be damned. The fact that I left a country where I could download at easily +100Mbps and now am super lucky to get 20Mbps makes my head explode. And it’s not just my provider at home. I have the same issues at work and pretty much everyone has just gotten accustomed to the low quality. Now, apparently the nbn is going to change all of that but I have yet to experience it and sadly my apartment is not wired for it! You just get used to web pages loading kind of slowly which I find uniquely challenging being a digital & eCommerce guy!
  12.  Aussie and New Zealand wines are phenomenal – If you’re comprehensive experience with AU wine is “Yellow Tail”, I can promise you that’s just about the worst representation of Aussie-born wine imaginable. Shiraz here is fabulous. And NZ’s sauvignon blanc and pinot noir – just to die for. I used to be a total California red snob but my tastes have evolved quite dramatically.
  13. Scary creatures. Yea, whatever…let’s talk about FLIES – When you live elsewhere and envision Australia, you definitely think about terrifying things like spiders, snakes, crocs, etc. And sure they exist and in great numbers across certain regions. But to be honest, the craziest thing here is the quantity of little black flies!!! If you go on any kind of hike during the summer, you can guarantee you will be swatting black flies out of your eyes and mouth the whole time. Even walking from our place in Waterloo to my work in the CBD…if I cross any park along the way, I am swarmed with them. You laugh as it happens because you can observe everyone else doing the same arm flailing maneuver – and if you look at people’s backs as they walk by, you’ll see all humans in Australia are really just fly buses. They unabashedly hitch a ride in droves. So at this point, my opinion is BRING ON THE SPIDERS if they will pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease just eat the flies.
  14. My last two points are going to dive a bit deeper. First up, making friends…it’s just not that easy – I think one of my biggest observations here is the challenge of making new friends. It’s probably quite a bit simpler if you’re young, living here and going to university as you’ll end up forcefully surrounded by potential friends. But when you’re a middle-age adult working full-time and living abroad, it’s surprisingly challenging. Couple that with the knowledge imparted to me that Aussies tend to build an impenetrable tribe whilst in high school whom they maintain as close friends for life, and you can see the complications. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing by any means – it’s just part of the reality check. In fact, an Aussie here once told me that it takes about 3 years to make true friends in Sydney (and apparently 5+ years in Melbourne). I’m not sure how statistically sound that is but I can say I’m at the 1 year mark and have made a small handful of real friends and a very large array of acquaintances. I consider myself fairly social and only selectively introverted (usually reserved for bingeing a new book or Netflix show) and I contrast this to my last year in the USA living in downtown D.C. where within a few months I made some of the very best friends of my life. So that’s been interesting to sort out here! I look forward to year two and seeing how it all plays out.
  15. Finally and pointedly, I miss my family in the USA. – I certainly expected nothing less, but in retrospect, I clearly rode a huge wave of excitement for the first year where the distance was offset by the new job, regular adventures and fascinating experiences. But 12 months later, I’ve plain and simple been wanting more access to the fam. Sure, Facebook helps and hopping on the occasional video chat does, too, but being this far away has really started to sink in. You have to make regular, concerted efforts to reach out and stay in touch to offset any heavy duty homesick feels. And – ever the optimist – I’m also happy to know that a direct flight to Dallas from Sydney is always just a few clicks (and a nice chunk of change) away.

One year later and that’s where my head is at, so far. I’m sure I’ve left out all kinds of other observations but these were the ones that bubbled up to the top of my mind when I sat down to write today. Would love to hear from other expats on what things they learned in their first year! Hope you enjoyed. XOXO -JW

14 comments

  • So incredible to hear someone put my same experiences far more eloquently than I possibly could have! Very well written and OH SO TRUE, but welcome to the 12mth mark #youmadeit #flybus

    Liked by 1 person

  • Wow… you’re speaking for all us American Expats Out here in Oz. Can I get an AMEN? 🙂

    Like

  • Spot on! I arrived a month after you and everything you said is spot on. Probably the only thing I would emphasize is the sports! I REALLY miss the sports and walking up at 5am to watch NFL before work on Monday is insane!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Hey its me again, im just wondering about a couple of other things i hope you dont mind answering. Your replies are great and you have a wealth of experience. I hope im not bugging you but your blog is great. I too am looking at moving to Australia. I am an engineer. I know i can only ask based on your experiences but in comparison to here in the US How does the cost of living compare?
    Housing, food, power etc.
    How does the shopping experience in Australia compare as in variety, products high end shopping and quality mainly clothing or high end products?
    Supermarket product variety?
    Food and produce?
    Restaurants?
    Housing quality and moderness?
    Public transport?
    And how do their small towns compare to those here as in beautifulness, infrastructure and facilities?
    And do Australians like Americans?

    Sincerely

    John

    Like

  • Hey its me again, im just wondering about a couple of other things i hope you dont mind answering. Your replies are great and you have a wealth of experience. I hope im not bugging you but your blog is great. I too am looking at moving to Australia. I am an engineer. I know i can only ask based on your experiences but in comparison to here in the US How does the cost of living compare?
    Housing, food, power etc.
    How does the shopping experience in Australia compare as in variety, products high end shopping and quality mainly clothing or high end products?
    Supermarket product variety?
    Food and produce?
    Restaurants?
    Housing quality and moderness?
    Public transport?
    And how do their small towns compare to those here as in beautifulness, infrastructure and facilities?
    And do Australians like Americans?

    Sincerely

    John

    Like

    • Hi John! Happy to try to help. Here are my thoughts on your questions:
      -Cost of living is high in Australia. If you’ve lived in DC, NYC, SF or LA in the US then it wont’ seem that bad. Otherwise, it will shock you. But you’re paying for a great quality of life, high quality produce, making sure everyone stands to earn a living wage…all things I think make it worth the extra costs.
      -Shopping experience in Australia is hit or miss – honestly, like I noted in my blog, the main issue I have is lack of Amazon! But it’s coming eventually. Otherwise, there are many stores and shops based on what city you end up in. You will have no problem finding high-end merchandise.
      -Food in general (produce or restaurant) – FANTASTIC. Truly. Very amazing restaurants here and the produce in general is top notch. You will not be disappointed.
      -Housing quality will vary by your location – generally speaking in any major city, there are loads of brand new apartments that have been built so you can live in quite a nice space. Lots of luxury options, too.
      -Public transport is fast, clean and easy. Nothing to worry about there.
      -My only infrastructure complaint continues to be re: internet speeds and wi-fi. It’s not great here. Very hit or miss.
      -And I can’t speak on behalf of all Australians as that’s not possible, but my experience is that I have been extremely well accepted here in Aus as an American. It would really come down to you and your personality, however, just as it would anywhere. 🙂

      Cheers! And good luck with the move to Aus if it happens!
      -JW

      Like

  • Love your blog and love how you actually are happy to answer peoples questions and reply in detail. Lots of bloggers dont. Its great reading for the rest of us.
    Firstly im in the opposite boat. Im in Australia wanting to move to the US.. though i admit donald trump is a scary prospect… youre views have been really interesting for me. Ive not really been able to communicate with many americans or been able to hear their views. And unlike you i havent even left australia haha so i cant really judge how well i have it here. So its nice reading your views on australia.
    I think alot of aussies see the usa with rose tinted glasses. Huge, powerful and so much opportunity. I always thought the US would be cleaner, glamier, happier, higher wages and a better standard of living due to its huge amount of productivity. Even food wise i thought it would leave australia behind. Even its houses and suburbs seem so much more modern and neat.

    Really great blog 👍🏻

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, David! I really, really appreciate your comment. And yes my main observation is that the grass is not necessarily greener in the USA! I would think long and hard before making the jump. And at minimum I would live in a liberal bastion city there…probably the best way to minimize the Trump impact (and maybe even join the resistance). Xoxo

      Like

  • Do you pay more taxes for things in Australia and pay more fees in Australia in day to day life conpared to the US?

    John

    Like

  • And lastly Wilbur do you find Australian cities and also towns as beautiful, modern, vibrant and livable as those in the US?

    John

    Like

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