Just over a month ago, I celebrated the two-year mark of living in Sydney. I moved from Ireland to Oz in June 2016, and though I’ve travelled around a lot, having based myself in Sydney for the majority of my time in Australia.
This article will be aimed mainly at Irish moving to Australia, but the vast majority of information can be used by other nationalities too. Packing your life up and moving across the world is one seriously huge choice, and inevitably will be one of the biggest decisions you ever make in your life. Today, Sun Scribes has put together an extensive blog post, packed full with information and handy links. Hopefully this makes your transition to Sydney that little bit easier!
- 1 Choosing Sydney
- 2 The Best Time to Make the Move
- 3 Visa and Airport Immigration
- 4 Accommodation
- 5 Jobs
- 6 Banking Details and TFN
- 7 Choosing the Right Phone Network
- 8 General Cost of Living
- 9 Lifestyle
- 10 Transport
- 11 Medical Care
- 12 Buying a Car in Sydney
- 13 Packing and Moving
- 14 Regional Work
When I asked people on social media what questions they would like answered regarding the move to Sydney, many asked why I chose Sydney over say Melbourne or Perth. For me, it seemed like a smart move. The wages are very high in Sydney compared to the rest of Oz, and there is a lot of office work in the city, as well as hospitality and construction.
My favourite thing about Sydney is the great mix between city life and beach vibes. Plus, the weather is fab (better than Melbs but on par with Perth), with amazing beaches. Another factor that influenced me was the Irish community in Sydney. It is very strong, with big GAA influence and even Paddy’s Day celebrations every year.
The Best Time to Make the Move
So! You’ve made the biggest decision of all, you’re making the move to Australia! Hardest part over (except for the goodbyes!!). Now what?
You need to book your flights, but can’t do so without a finalised date. So when is the best time to move to Sydney?
I’m sorry to say, but winter time (June/July) is the smartest time to make the move. That may mean leaving home in the middle of summer, when the weather is good and the evenings are long. While Sydney does experience year-round sunshine, temperatures can get low, and night falls at 5pm every evening.
It might not be beach season when you arrive, but it will make the transition a hell of a lot easier once you arrive. Peak backpacker season is October – January, when the weather is fabulous and the beaches are packed. By May-June a lot of people either follow the sun to the North, or go home to Europe to visit family. Arriving in Sydney’s winter will give you an advantage point in terms of finding accommodation and securing a job.
Visa and Airport Immigration
As you probably already know, a Working Holiday Visa (AKA: Working Holiday Maker Visa) is required to work in Australia legally. This visa gives you exactly twelve months to work Down Under.
The main objective of the visa is to give holiday makes casual work rights in order to supplement their travels. For this reason, you are only allowed by law to work for six months at a time in one place. Although this is often ignored in cases of cash in hand work, or ABN work like construction (more on ABN later).
I won’t lie, it’s a serious annoyance getting comfortable in a job and having to leave after your sixth month. Employers can plead your case to immigration asking for you to stay in your job longer, but it’s often not successful.
To apply for the visa you must be between 18-30 years old. Once your visa is accepted, it does not matter if you turn 31 before your arrival to Australia (basically don’t apply for your visa a couple of weeks before your 31st birthday).
Obtaining your visa is straight forward is you’re confident enough. However, with such a huge task ahead of me in terms of packing, quitting my job, and saying my goodbyes I was more than happy to hand the job over to someone else.
I pick USIT as my travel agent, having worked with them previously on my J1 application, I was confident they would take the stress out of the process. One rainy evening in Dublin after work I made my way over to the USIT office for an information night on Australia. I’d highly recommend this event as it really put my mind at ease. From start to finish, USIT took care of everything. I availed of one of their packages, where they organised my visa and flights together, plus some extra bonuses for €999.
For more information visit USIT here and view some of their options.
Once you’ve touched down in Sydney Aiport, immigration, though very long queues, is a relatively easy-going experience. Unlike my previous encounter with American immigration for my J1 visa, who studied my passport thoroughly and were sceptical of my other visas to China, Australian immigration is straight forward.
Have your visa details ready and printed off, along with the address of your hostel/hotel/friend’s house. As for the visa requirement of “sufficient funds”, I was never asked for this proof, and I’ve never met anyone who was questioned on this either. Still, have a recent screenshot of your online banking or bring a printed bank statement along.
Other than a long queue, this process is stress-free.
Probably the biggest question I get asked the most is how to go about finding a place to live. With so many Irish in Sydney at the moment, many have connection already. If you don’t, however, not to worry, the Irish look out for each other here.
If you can’t secure a room before you arrive, I recommend kipping in a hostel for the first week. If you’re on your own it’s a great way to meet some people in the same situation. If you’re a couple, you can book a private room. Alternatively, Air BnB is a great option in Sydney. Stay away from hotels, they’re ridiculously expensive in Oz, but in particular in Sydney.
If you want to stay in a hostel in the Eastern Suburbs, Mad Monkey Coogee is recently renovated and right beside the beach. This place is great for making friends and enjoying the free BBQ facilities across the road. Bondi Backpackers also has an “exceptional” rating on Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a city central location Sydney Central YHA is right beside the train station, making accommodation viewing easy. Sydney Harbour YHA also has good reviews on TripAdvisor.
More Long Term
Once you’re settled into your hostel and over the jet-lag, you can begin to get an idea of your surroundings and begin your accommodation search. When I first arrived in Sydney, I room-hopped for about three months. Since I was unsure of my plans and unwilling to sign a lease, this was a great option, one I was unaware of when planning my move in Ireland.
Room-hopping is basically covering someone else’s rent while they are on holiday. A lot of people rent their rooms anywhere from two weeks to three months (if they’re leaving for farm work). Check Facebook pages like Irish Around Sydney, Bondi Local Loop, and Rooms Available/Need – Sydney.
Rent and Where To Live
One serious downside to Sydney is the extortionate pricing of rent. However, due to the high wages in Sydney, they pretty much cancel each other out. Unless you’ve come over with a lot of savings, or beginning to work straight away, renting your own place yourself is out of the question.
The more popular areas like Eastern suburbs near the beaches are very expensive. Expect to pay on average $300 for a room and up to $400+ for a couple sharing. The Western suburbs are less popular, and as a result rent is cheaper. They are quite far away from the fun (i.e.: the beaches) but don’t knock the Westies. Rent is cheap, houses are more modern/recently renovated, and there are train-lines everywhere in the west (unlike the east, where no trains run expect to Bondi).
If you’re renting directly from an agency, it will almost always be unfurnished. Don’t be fooled by the viewing if it has furniture, this is just for show. Always, always ask if the place comes furnished.
If it doesn’t, in my opinion, don’t let this put you off. Gathering furniture in Sydney is surprisingly easy. People advertise to get rid of their stuff all the time for free. In the suburbs, things like tables, chairs, BBQs, etc., are left on the side of the road, free to a good home before rubbish collection. I once picked up a perfectly working flat screen TV from the side of the road! Also, check the Facebook groups for fridges, etc.
The Irish typically migrate to the Eastern Suburbs, we’re quite well-known for it and it’s a bit of a cliché at this point. Areas like Randwick, Coogee, and of course Bondi are the most popular. While the areas are stunning and full of life, rent is through the roof and housing is often old and in need of refurbishment. Having said that, I live in Coogee and I absolutely love it.
Areas like Newtown, Surry Hills and Redfern are stylish areas close to the city, with great bars and restaurants.
One huge plus to moving to Sydney is the abundance of work! Seriously, there are so many jobs here, you just have to be willing to put in the work to find one. I have had so, so many jobs since moving to Sydney, after about ten I stopped counting! I’ve worked in hospitality in a hotel, I’ve done bar work and I’ve done admin, reception and office work.
Again, keep an eye out on Irish Around Sydney for job posts (new ones listed every day), and seek.com.au is good also. Tip: To make a quick buck, search Gumtree for daily jobs. Everything is poted here, from elderly people needing their houses painted or lawns mowed, to tradies looking for an extra set of hands for the day. It’s a good way to tide you over until you find something more permanent.
Below, I will list out the the most common areas of work in Sydney, particularly among Irish and British.
To work in hospitality is super easy, there genuinely is a lot of work in it, especially around the summer time. In order to work in a restaurant, bar or venue that serves alcohol, you must hold an RSA certificate. This is a day-course to be done in a classroom or online that teaches the responsible serving of alcohol (Sydney has extremely strict rules when it comes to alcohol consumption). Unfortunately, this certificate is expensive, about $100, and differs from each state. I got mine online here. I’d recommend the online course, it’s easy and you can pause your work and pick it up at a later stage.
Generally, hospitality is good pay, but cafes and the smaller restaurants don’t pay as well. Try the bigger hotel chains, which pay good money and supply uniforms. I worked for the Crowne Plaza Coogee and loved it. Also, the Holiday Inn Potts Point is another great hotel always looking for staff.
Administration and Office Work
Being such a big city, there is a lot of admin work in Sydney. The best way to break into admin is to join a recruitment agency. Join as many as you can, giving you more of a chance to find work.
If you don’t have too much office experience don’t worry. Recruitment agencies have what the call an SOS list. Meaning companies call the agency when their receptionist pulls a sickie and it’s the agency’s job to fill the position QUICKLY. If you put your name down on the SOS list, you can expect to get a call on any day of the week around 8am, asking can you fill in at a reception in a random office in the city.
This was a great way for me to gain experience and it’s good money too. When interviewing with a recruitment agency, dress very smart (think suit and tie/heels and blazer), show off your bubbly personality and stress that you are completely free to work.
The best agencies I have found are Mayday Recruitment, Randtad, Ignite Services and Robert Walters.
Right now at the time of writing (August 2018) there is a lot of construction work in Sydney. There are a lot of projects happening all over the city at the moment like Lightrail, West Connex and North Connex (railway lines).
If you are interested in working within construction be prepared for great money, but long hours. To work in the industry you must first obtain your white card (an introduction into safety on a construction site). Like the RSA, it can be done online here.
Next you must have appropriate protection workwear known as PPE. Cheap equipment can be purchased in Target and K-Mart, while better quality gear can be bought at Federal Workwear or Lowes in Bondi Junction.
Keep an eye out on Irish Around Sydney Facebook page for job postings. Companies like EMC, Kennys Construction, Quickway, Oz Labour Solutions and Bleasdale National Contractors are all popular with Irish construction workers.
If you don’t mind being an Irish cliché, traffic controlling is one serious way to make good money! With all the construction work going on in Sydney at the moment, there is always work for traffic controllers, and it’s easy, easy work.
To qualify as a traffic controller you must obtain your Blue, Yellow and White Cards. These are cards proof you are qualified for the job. I recommend the course Traffic Control Licences. They’re a great company, and unlike other courses, at the end of the two day course, test you and give you your qualifications there and then. Email email@example.com for more information.
Companies like Retro, Cailíní, Complete Onsite Group and Evolution are all traffic controlling companies are popular with Irish traffic controllers. Join the facebook page Traffic Control – Sydney and follow the daily updates for work.
As mentioned above, wages are genuinely very good in Sydney. Do not except cash-in-hand work for hospitality, it generally means they’ll be paying you way less than what you deserve. Usually, hospitality wages range from $21-$24 an hour with penalty rate on the weekend. Admin work is usually in and around the $27/28 mark, with construction reaching the high thirties.
Banking Details and TFN
The “backpacker tax” was introduced recently much to the dismay of all us Working Holiday Visas. While on this visa, you will be taxed at 15%, with no threshold. Meaning, from the first dollar you earn you will be taxed 15%. Previously, backpackers reclaimed huge amounts of tax at the end of each financial year. The government put a stop to this in 2017, meaning taxback is now a lot less, even if you don’t earn that much money.
REMEMBER: When filling out any tax forms when beginning a new job, make sure to tick the YES box for the question “are you a resident for tax purposes?”. If you tick no, you will be taxed at 32.5% instead of 15%!
You won’t be able to obtain and job without a bank account and a TFN. Luckily these are simple to set up. The main Australian banks include Commonwealth, WestPac, ANZ, St. George and Citibank. I’m with Commonwealth Bank and I find them easy to use with lots of ATMs everywhere. They’ve a great app as well which is easy to use. I also set up my Super with Commonwealth. You must visit the bank in person to set up an account and your Super, so bring some ID with you.
Credit Cards are pretty easy to come by in Australia, and nearly everybody has a low-rate credit card with a small limit on it. Once you begin to earn a regular income, your bank will more than likely offer you one. I found these a help in travelling. I often paid for my flights and accommodation and paid off my credit card in regular instalments. Unfortunately, a lot of Working Holiday Visa holders abuse credit cards, often maxing them out then skipping the country. This gives us all a bad name and causes reputation problems, so don’t be that a**h***.
Transferring Your Euro To Your New Bank Account
This process is actually really simple, and will save you a lot of doh on fees and exchange rates. Tansferwise.com is a reliable company to use with small transaction fees. Also, remember to inform your bank at home of your travel plans, in case they suspend your account for unusual activity.
A TFN (Tax File Number) is a national number assigned to you so the government can keep taps on you. It really simple to set up yourself so don’t stress. You can find out more here .
Super is basically like your pension in Australia. When starting a new job your employer will tell you your hourly wage plus super. This means they will contribute to your Super fund. The minimum Super contribution for an employer is 9%.
You must supply your Super details to your employer or they will nominate a Super fund for you. I recommend using your own, it makes it easier to claim back at the end of your time in Oz.
I’d recommend opening a Super account with your bank, as it’s easy to keep track over your funds, via online banking or your banking app. I have a Super fund with Commonwealth, called the Essential Super Fund.
Claiming your Super
As you are not a resident/citizen of Australia, there is no need to be contributing to a pension fund for your future. Therefore, you are entitled to your Super back. Unfortunately, the Australian government realised this was just too much of a sweet deal for backpackers and introduced a new law, where the government now keeps 65% of your Super earnings!!
An ABN (Australian Business Number) is a unique 11 digit number that identifies your business/you as a worker to the tax office. An ABN doesn’t replace your TFN, but is often required when working in construction or as a tradie. I’ve even heard of strippers and escorts working on ABN!
It basically means your employer pays you your full wage without tax deductions and it’s your job to do your tax returns at the end of the financial year. ABNs can be tricky and a lot of people abuse them by not declaring their tax and skipping the country before the government can find out.
Choosing the Right Phone Network
There are three main phone and data suppliers in Oz: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Unfortunately, unlike Ireland, there is no such thing as “unlimited data”…like, at all!! Basic phone plans come with at most 5GB of data, something I really had to adjust to when moving!
My phone plan I feel is decent enough. I am with Telstra, pay-as-you-go. For $40 a month I get unlimited calls and texts as well as free calls to Ireland, and 5GB of data. Vodafone is infamous for having crappy signal, I know from experience! Telstra is the most reliable for phone coverage in rural areas; important if you’re planning to do your east coast road trip.
Unless you plan on living permanently in Australia, I’d advise against getting a bill phone. They’re crazy expensive and will hold you in a contract for as long as possible.
General Cost of Living
A bit of a downside to Sydney, the cost of living is pretty ridiculous. Although wages are high, if you want to save money, serious sacrifices have to be made in the social life aspect!
My experience working in a popular bar in Sydney left me flabbergasted regarding the amount of money people spent on alcohol, in particular the Irish! Punters would easily drop $500 on a bar-tab on a Saturday night. But it’s easy to realise how, when you see the price of booze in Sydney.
Bars are so can cost between $10-12, with schooners (the more popular measure in Oz) costing $9. Cocktails will see you fork over an average of $18, the fancier ones reaching $22. If you wanna save a few bucks and have a few drinks at home, think again. A crate of Corona will set you back $60, while a 70cl of vodka costs about $40.
If you’re a smoker, you might want to consider quitting before you get over here. A pack of 20 Marlboro costs…wait for it…$29!
Groceries are more expensive in Australia in general, partly though because of the exchange rate. It’s not uncommon to see a box of cereal on the shelves for $7 or a can of deodrant for $8.99. Avocados are usually $2.50 and higher, comared to the 80c pricetag at home!
Also, before the big move, I expected to miss all the good ole’ fashioned Irish grub from home. Surprisingly, all of my favourite goodies and snacks from Ireland can be bought in the supermarkets.
The cost of eating out readily depends on where you are. For example breakfast for two people in a popular beach suburb will easy rack up to $50. However, the exact same two meals could be bought for $30 in a less popular suburb.
Eating out in general is quite expensive in Sydney, with an average meal of burger and chips costing about $25. The food in Sydney is nothing to write home about. You can pretty much guess what’s on every single menu in a diner or bar before you even look at the menu. You can guarantee you’ll find a chicken schnitzel, chicken parmi, Aussie beef burger and a selection of pizzas; pretty standard and all over-priced!
When I asked for questions to answer in this post, one of the first questions I was sent was “What’s the Australian equivalent to Penneys?!”. If there’s one thing the Irish miss more than anything, it’s a good trip to Penneys!
Unfortunately there’s not much of an equivilant to the cheap retailers here in Oz. Target and K-Mart probably come close, with cheap homewear and clothes, but it’s not really the most fashionable.
If your looking for a day out shopping, any Westfield Shopping Centre is the place to go. Cotton On is a reasonably-priced fashion store for men and women, as well as Dotti for women.
Sydney is really great for vintage fashion markets, particularly popular are the Glebe Markets, Paddington Markets an the Westies Markets.
The lifestyle in Sydney is like nothing else! You’ll fall in love with the Harbour City straight away, especially in the summertime. The weather in Sydney, naturally makes it a very outdoorsy. When I first arrived I was in awe of how fit and healthy everyone was.
Everywhere you turn, there are fitness classes, 6am beach boot-camps, outdoor gyms, running groups, dog-walking groups, Yoga, Pilates, dance, I could go on! A huge thing on my local beach are life-saving groups and swimming groups.
While there is a drinking culture here, particularly among the Irish, it’s nothing compared to what you would find at home. Sydney is nicknamed the “Nanny State”, due to its laws around alcohol, known as the “Lockout Laws”. Working in a bar, I saw the full extent of the restrictions on booze here.
These include: Absolutely NO entry to a bar if you’re intoxicated (often resulting in no pre-drinking before bars). A zero-tolerance policy of acting the maggot and getting too hammered, you’ll be out on your arse faster than you can down a shot. Speaking of shots, no shots or doubles after midnight. This is hugely enforced, as it carries huge fines into the thousands for the venue and the bartender personally. This even goes as far as not serving a single measure of whiskey over ice, which technically counts as a “shot”.
These restrictive laws recently introduced have been said to kill the nightlife in Sydney. Instead, people flock to the beaches with a cooler of beer and a BBQ. The beach scene here, obviously is the main attraction, even in the winter, we bring blankets down to the sand and sit with a coffee watching the surfers.
Compared to Ireland, transport in and around the city is a dream. The train-lines in Sydney are great, connecting the outer suburbs to the city. However, the biggest downfall is the train-lines don’t reach the Eastern Suburbs or beaches, just the bus lines. Something to consider when renting property.
The buses are plentiful and frequent, but unfortunately, Sydney traffic is like no other. Where I live in Coogee, is roughly a 20-minute journey to my office in the city in the middle of the afternoon. However, at morning rush-hour, my journey takes about 45 minutes.
When moving to Sydney, an Opal card must be one of your very first purchases. This works like a Leap card at home, and you can top it up via the app on your phone on website. This is used on all forms on transport in Sydney, including buses, trains and ferries (to get to North Sydney).
Commuting costs at relatively on par with Dublin costs. I top up my card by $50 each week which gets me two journeys a day, five days a week, plus the odd bus journey at the weekends.
There is a weekly cap of $63.20 a week for an adult, meaning if you spend this amount, all journeys for the rest of the week are free. Also, Sundays have a cap of $2.50.
Tip: Take advantage of Sunday cheap travel and take a trip on the train out to the Blue Mountains.
For getting around Sydney, familiarise yourself with Google Maps, it will be your lifesaver, as it tells you the times the buses and trains are due. Also, TripView is a perfect app if Google Maps isn’t your thing, but you must pay for it.
Unfortunately, medical care in Australia is expensive if you’re Irish. If you are a BRITISH passport holder (including NORTHERN IRISH), you are eligible for Medicare Cover. This is gives you a certain amount of cover for GP visits, medical prescriptions and public hospital care.
If you are from the Republic of Ireland you do not receive Medicare Cover. The Irish, however, under a reciprocal healthcare agreement between Ireland and Australia, do receive cover for trips to A&E, just bring your passport to show proof of nationality.
If you need to visit your GP, cost depends on what your visit requires. A general visit for sickness where a script is required will cost on average $70. A refill for a prescription (say contraceptive pill) will cost $60. Bloodwork and local aesthetics will be about $110+.
*If you’re Irish can skip this part – I had an English friend write this section for me*
Applying for Medicare is simple.
– Go to your closest Centerlink, fill out the form they give you and they process the application with you.
– Bring your visa and passport, and prepare for an hour wait (minimum).
– Ask for a paper copy of your Medicare number which you can use until your Medicare card arrives in the post.
– If you have paid for doctors appointments you can claim costs back once you receive your card
Buying a Car in Sydney
Do I need one?
Unless you absolutely, absolutely have to, there is no need for a car. We have two cars, one bought and one company car, and to be honest they’re a bit of a hassle. Firstly, as mentioned above, public transport is efficient enough to get you anywhere you want within Sydney. Secondly, traffic is insane in the city so driving isn’t a great option.
And thirdly, parking is a bit of a nightmare as it is in all cities, but also in the suburbs. Unless you have a garage, or paid parking space (up to $60 a week!!), you may find yourself circling your block for ages looking for a spot each evening.
We initially bought our car for road trips and doing our East Coast trip. It is a huge plus having a car in terms of weekends away and exploring what’s outside Sydney.
If you feel you really want a car for your time in Sydney, check out my guide to buying a car here.
If you do buy a car, the first thing you will need to do is register your car and insure it. Car “rego” can be confusing to a non-Aussie, but it’s straight-forward enough once you get your head around it.
Registration (AKA: rego) is the equivalent to car tax at home. You can rego a car for three, six or twelve months. It is always best to buy a car with a few months rego still left on it (not necessary but makes life easier).
If you purchase a car with rego on it, you must transfer the rego ownership over to you, the new owner. To do this is simple enough. On the back of the car’s rego slip, there will be a change of ownership form. These details must be filled out and signed by the previous owner and you also. Once this is completed, you have 14 days to bring the change of ownership form to your local RMS office.
The cost of the rego changeover is $32, plus 3% of what you paid for the car.
Purchasing new rego
If you have purchased a car with no rego on it, you must go through a few steps to re-register your car. Firstly, bring your car for a safety check at your local garage. Once your car has passed, you will receive your pink slip (like NCT at home).
Next, you must insure your car. QBE and GIO are companies I have previously used, but check comparethemarket for a deal that suits you. Once you have your pink slip and insurance, visit the government website here , enter your details and pay for your rego.
It is also important to remember, if a car has not been registered for over three months, a blue slip must be obtained instead of a pink slip. This is simply a more thorough safety check. This rule also applies for cars previously registered in different states.
Packing and Moving
When I was planning my move to Australia two years ago, I was stressing about what to pack and how will I move all my clothes over! It turns out, this really isn’t a big deal at all. You can buy absolutely everything out here anyway.
The main thing to consider is what season you’re moving in. If it’s Sydney’s winter, BRING WARM CLOTHES! This is the biggest mistake people make when moving, thinking it’s going to be 30 degrees in August!
When I was packing my suitcase, it was like I was packing for the Apocalypse! Don’t bother with shampoos, sunscreens or anything heavy like liquids, you can buy all these here.
If you’re considering doing some Asia travelling beforehand, consider sending some things over ahead of time. Sendmybag.com is a great way to move a suitcase to Australia. You can send it ahead of your trip, and pick it up in Sydney Airport.
So you’ve completed your first year in Oz! Trust me, this year absolutely flies! If you’re anything like the vast majority of WHV holders who have completed twelve months Down under, you’re goingt to want more! A second-year visa is possible, with the completion of three months of regional work.
As this is a topic far too broad to cover under one heading, I’ve written a separate blog post all about regional work and obtaining a second-year visa.
This has been the longest blog post I have ever written. I have tried to include as much information as possible, but as always there will be many unanswered questions still! If you have any queries on making the big move to Sydney, Australia, feel free to contact Sun Scribes on Facebook or Instagram.
If you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, congrats! I hope it’s helped you in your preparations for the big move, thanks for reading 🙂