Happy 2nd Expativersary to us! …are we staying?

Two years on, and am I any the wiser? People still ask me why I moved. Why be an expat? Why Australia? London is so great! Sometimes the answer is a shrug, a smile, and “the weather”. Depending on my mental capacity at that particular moment, sometimes I get into the dreaded Brexit issue. At other times I just stick to ‘I felt like a change’; a handy cop-out that covers a multitude of ugly realities.

I rarely tell people the catalyst that was my Dad’s death. The jolt of reality that if you think you might like to do something, you should really go ahead and do it as soon as you can. You never know what’s around the corner. But that’s sometimes a little bit more than people bargained for when they are just cheerily trying to make conversation in the supermarket line.

Reasons aside, two years on, do I think I’ve made the right decision?

Well, now we’ve passed the two year mark as expats, we’ve had enough time to realise that…

The Good

The natural environment is phenomenal

Australia still has the best beaches of anywhere I’ve seen. Ever. You can drive an hour up or down the coast and have some of the most incredible beaches you’ve ever seen all to yourself. Even the city beaches are beautiful and clean, if a little more crowded – the plus point being you are generally never more than 50 paces from an excellent brunch spot.

One of my favourite beaches, Avalon

Aside from beaches, Australia has the most beautiful and diverse landscape I’ve ever seen, and I still can’t get over it. Even the simple things, like the way the gum trees in the National Park down the road from us smell after the rain. I can’t get enough. The more I see, the more I want to see.

These are actually some trees in Western Australia. They still smelled good, though.

Lifestyle matters to Australians

Australians take certain things very seriously. One is food, which makes me very happy. Australian brunch is world famous and for good reason – internationally inspired, using fresh local ingredients, widely available. And the fact I can easily eat gluten free at most food outlets is honestly huge for me. I’ve been travelling around SE Asia a bit for the past couple of months and I’ve had a really hard time finding food I can eat. That just makes me miserable.

Casual brunch in the Hunter Valley. As always, #glutenfree

Work-life balance wise, there’s a different attitude here than what I’m used to from back in London. Here, it’s ok – celebrated, even! – to talk about wanting to spend more time at home, with family, with hobbies, whatever. If you’re the ambitious type you’ll find others here to hustle with you; they’ll just have a side helping of common sense to go with it.

Oh and most people have a hobby, which they’re generally very into, and is often a sport. I’m still not there yet but am now feeling sufficiently shamed that I might have to do something about it one of these days.

The weather is still fabulous

I will never get over how great it feels to step outside and feel warm. And to enjoy the bright, clear light.

More WA scenes. I think the light here is even brighter than in Sydney.

Winter does get chilly, but it’s actually often worse inside poorly insulated apartments that were built by people who think Australia enjoys a permanent summer (who are those people and what planet do they live on?!). We have now stocked up on cheap Kmart oil radiators and hope to sail through the upcoming winter in our rather damp semi-subterranean flat.

It’s a global country with a village feel

Australia is a global player for sure, but it retains that small village feel. I think its slightly remote location and small population is a large part of it – with just under 25 million people spread over 7.6m square kilometres (versus the US’s 327m people over 9.8m square kilometres), there’s not many of us in this giant country.

This has many ramifications but one in particular is the lack of variety in the retail scene, although ecommerce is improving things eversogradually. If you don’t like what’s in the shops now, you’ll have to wait 3+ months until the new season stuff is in because that’s it until then. I find it quite refreshing actually, and I think it’s giving me slightly better shopping habits as a result.

You can have personal space here

Even at its business busy times, Sydney is still way less crowded than most big cities – certainly London, and most Asian cities I’ve visited. You generally can find your own personal space and the train is never tube level crazy. Housing is still quite low density so you’ve got a good chance of living in a low rise block with a small outside space of your own and maybe even a communal larger one within 15 mins of the city centre.

Empty (stunning!) beaches for dayssss

And that’s just Sydney – things are similar but fractionally less crazy in most of Melbourne, and are infinitely less crazy the further away from a metro centre you move.

The bad

Meeting people is hard as an expat

It’s still hard to meet new people here, and they do tend to be fellow expats. The unfortunate consequence of that is people moving home… Which is sad, but now we have a wide assortment of friends around the globe we can drop in on at any time – right guys!??

Scenes from Vivid, an annual light festival in Sydney

But to be honest we’re both quite busy with work at the moment and I barely have time to see the few friends I have made, and see my sister and her family, and keep up with friends and family at home… so I can’t complain.

Speaking of which…

I’m terrible at keeping in touch

You know how you have certain fond ideas of your own capabilities and think oh, that’ll be no problem for me? That was me and keeping in touch with friends and family at home. I thought I’d be great at it. Surprise! I’m not. It’s something I really want to work on: starting NOW.

The economy is slowing down

Australia has been enjoying an excellent economic boom for the past few decades but things have inevitably begun to slow down. In general we’re lucky enough to be in a good position, but it’s difficult to see a country facing the reality of good times coming to an end. Especially having experienced Austerity Measures in the UK which was not a fun time for all.

[No caption needed]

On a personal level, unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be affecting house prices (they’re still sky high) but credit availability is getting restricted. So it’s still hard to get into the housing market, but in subtly different ways. Fun and games.

The jobs market is small

As I mentioned above, Australia is a small market in general which means the job market is also small. If you have a widely used and popular job then you might well be fine, but the low population means it’s a small playing field in general.

Bonus wombat to distract from awkward finance chat

When I was deciding what to do next in my career, I realised pretty quickly that there are about 5 very senior roles in my field. And the 5 people in those roles at the moment have probably rotated around all of them at least twice.

There is opportunity in Australia for sure, but if you have a certain professional track in mind, be careful. I always recommend having a savings buffer to anyone who wants to be an expat, but if your job situation is even slightly unclear, this is even more crucial. Kelly will back me up hard on this one.

It may be harder to find the right role for you than you think – and be aware that you may be restricted to Sydney and Melbourne which are expensive places to live. The good news is that if you have certain niche skills that are in high demand (eg coding, data science) you may well have your pick of roles as you’ll have very little competition.

Racism is endemic

Australia is a really racist country. Sorry, but it is. I don’t have any specific examples because I haven’t experienced it personally, being a white woman of privilege. However I’ve heard the tones of people around me (well educated liberal folk too) and it is not pleasant. It’s so endemic I don’t know how it will even be fixed and I feel like because it’s not even acknowledged, nothing will happen until it is.

Travel is expensive

Not to state the obvious, but it takes a long time to fly anywhere from Australia. Its closest neighbour, New Zealand, is a four hour flight away from Sydney so, you know, not super close by any means. To get to Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia etc you’re looking at around 8 hours on a plane – that’s considered short haul to most Aussies.

So going on holiday is therefore quite expensive when you factor in such long flights, even if your destination is quite good value when you get there.

This week we’ve been in Langkawi! Cheap on arrival; before that not so much

If you decide to cut flight costs by staying in Australia, you can expect some pretty steep accommodation costs and don’t forget, if you’re eating out in resort towns it adds up pretty quickly.

Basically you just have to get very creative if you want a cheap holiday here in Australia. It’s doable, just, but you’ll never get on the cheap weekend in Europe level.

So are we staying?

Overall, real talk, I’m still really glad we moved here. It’s going really well for us so far and I can’t believe how lucky we’ve been. Life as an expat in Australia has opened up opportunities for us that I don’t think we would have had in the UK. Our plans are to stay until we get citizenship (about another 2 years, government willing) and then reassess our options at that point. You never know what life has in store so these are loosely held plans, but that’s the idea at this point in time.

I’m excited for what the next year of living as an expat in Australia looks like and I’m so glad we made the move. Cheers!

-Rachel

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