It’s easy to forget that we’ve moved to the opposite end of the earth now our lives here have settled into a routine so similar to the one we had back in the UK that I’m often startled when I hear an Aussie accent! If I stay in the present moment, life is good and the new home we’ve created here in Melbourne is nothing short of wonderful with a lovely village and great schools, fantastic friends that we love and can rely on and a beautiful beach right on our doorstep. Yes, all of the boxes we drew up when we dreamed of our new lives down under have (hypothetically) been ticked!
So why is it that sometimes I feel like I’ve hit a wall? Why do I spend some days counting the hours until my British friends and family wake up so I can contact them (nine hours feels like a really long time when you’ve got something important you want to share!) and why does everything (even the good stuff) just feel a little bit empty?
It’s safe to say we weren’t prepared for the emotional burden a move overseas would bring, particularly as we compared it to when we lived here previously (without children was a whole lot different!) As we’ve raised the kids in two countries, we can’t help but compare life over here with what we had back in England and there's a good chance I might be driving myself a bit mad in the process!
I know your time is precious and I am always very grateful for your visit so I mostly try to share the good vibes through this blog but as so many people have been asking about what life is really like here as they are considering making a similar move, I feel I have to share both the ups and downs too or it will be disingenuous. I've spoken to lots of people who are here from the UK and I think it would be useful for me to share our common complaints with those who haven’t made the move yet but are considering it. Don’t get me wrong, we are so grateful for the opportunity to be here but it has to be said that there are things that have come as a big surprise! They are:
The distance! When we first envisaged our lives in Australia, we thought we’d be able to make a trip back to England every year but flights are so expensive we’ve worked out we would need to save about $600 every month just to afford it. When you also add in the cost of family flying out here to visit us, the total sum of spending a few weeks together every year is astronomical and completely unattainable if we want to a) live and b) eat. The journey is also incredibly grueling, not only for children but for adults too. Our parents are in their sixties and 24 hours in the air plus stop-over time and journeys to and from the airport mean a few days is needed either side of the journey just to recover from the jet-lag. There is also a new friend that comes with every visitor in the form of an elephant in the room – that dreaded thought that even the wonderful time you are spending together will soon come to an end and (even though no-one wants to mention it), the fact is that you will soon be saying some heart wrenching goodbyes.
The location! It’s so hard to choose a place you want to spend the rest of your lives if you’ve never visited the country before and yet the majority of people that get in touch with me have never set foot on Australian soil. I think the media do a good job of selling the Australian dream to us Brits and the pictures posted with beach backdrops only further seduce us into making the move with the hopes of attaining the big house with the big pool by the beautiful beach. However, even visiting for a holiday would only make you fall in love with the place even more so it’s difficult to gauge a true indication of how you’ll feel when ‘real life’ sets in. I’d say doing research and talking to people who have moved to those areas is a great idea. There are heaps of Facebook pages dedicated to Poms Down Under and websites such as Bob In Oz are really helpful too.
Family support! I didn't realise how much I relied on my family for support (physically and emotionally) until we were alone at the other side of the other side of the world. It came as a huge shock to not be able to call round to see someone after a bad day or ask for help when I was too ill to manage the school run or just to watch the kids be loved and listened to by people other than ourselves. Regardless of how close you are to your parents, it's important to bear in mind that the time you get to spend with your loved ones is not infinite and watching them grow older on video calls and during bi-annual visits could make you question if you've made the right decision every single day. Also, can we just take a minute to appreciate babysitters! There's a lot to be said for spending quality time together as a family but there's also a lot to be said for having time alone as a couple while the kids are with their grandparents too (*sob!)
The climate! If ever you've wished for sunshine all year round, the thought of life in Australia really appeals. Even here in Melbourne with its seasons, the winter is short lived and after a few months of cooler weather convincing the kids to wear coats rather than layers of sun screen and hats, the prospect of swimming in the sea after school or spending the weekend camping at the beach is never far away. One thing to consider however is that us Brits take access to Europe incredibly forgranted and even though the rain really gets us down particularly in the North, the ability to fly overseas and experience new countries and cultures is very different to living here in the southern hemisphere. Also mosquitoes – can I just say YUK! I'm dreading them and their bites keeping us awake at night as soon as the weather warms up again! The only little menaces I will put up with losing sleep over is the kids!
Work permits and Visas! Australia only allows entry to people who have a skilled occupation and are between the ages of 18 and 50. The list of occupations in demand changes every year and it was slashed by 200 in 2017, however there are still around 400 on there. We found employing a Migration Expert invaluable and checking websites that do online eligibility tests really useful too. The Australian Immigration Office is a great place to start.
Finding work! If you are open to moving to any part of Australia, it may be worth doing a quick job hunt to see where your vocation is in the highest demand and then heading there! Seek is a great website to start from and you may be able to get in touch with prospective employers who could be willing to offer sponsorship to the right candidate, saving you heaps of time and money. We found salaries around a third higher than what is typically on offer in the UK, but it's important to note that the cost of living is higher too. Although petrol is a lot cheaper, food definitely isn't and mortgage/rent could be excessively more (our rent is 4 times the cost of our mortgage payments per month back in the UK). Because the weather is milder there's a lot more fantastic activities you can do outdoors with the kids that cost next to nothing, but if you want them to have hobbies be prepared to factor in those costs too (those ballet and football classes suddenly seems less important when they're costing hundreds of dollars every month!)
Finding property! Now we have the internet at hand, searching for a place to live before heading over here is easier than ever. We found Real Estate a great help in gauging house prices in different areas both for sale and to rent but if you don’t want to commit to a property until you get over here and drive around the areas working out the neighborhoods and transport links (highly recommended) renting a short term stay through Air bnb is a safe place to start. We rented a house for the first four weeks of our adventure, which was a great way to base ourselves while we searched for somewhere more permanent. I have to say it’s important to be aware of the property market over here though. As we were homeowners in the UK, we didn’t necessarily have the references the estate agents wanted from previous landlords and Ste didn’t even have a job when we first arrived to put down on our application but we persevered. The rental market here is SO FIERCE we’ve even heard of houses going up for auction and rented to the highest bidder and people have to be willing to put up six months rent in advance just to secure a home. It’s brutal to say the least and was probably the scariest aspect of our move over here. As for buying a house, property prices in Melbourne have sky rocketed in the past few years due to a combination of high demand and limited stock pricing many families completely out of the buyers market. A median priced house is now over 7 times the average households annual earning capacity.
Covering costs! The price of visas, flights and the cost of living until you find work (if you haven’t come over here with a job already lined up) will go into the tens of thousands. Even if you pay the hundreds in fees to ship your belongings over here, it’s worth noting that your furniture will take around 3 months to arrive so it’s not necessarily feasible that you’ll be able to wait for beds to sleep in and a sofa to sit on. The chances are that you’ll need to scrap your belongings and start again – exciting at best but expensive at worst! Ikea and Gumtree will very likely become your best friends but take it from us and be prepared to buy your cars from a dealership – the laws over here are not the same as they are in the UK with ‘Buyer Beware’ being a motto we’ve had to learn the hard way!
Health care! This is something we didn’t spend much time looking into, I’ll be honest. So used to the good old NHS and the comfort having free health care for you and your family brings, it’s not something that was in the forefront of our minds. However, a few weeks into our lives over here and the kids needed to see a doctor so $80 later, we had only paid for the consultation then had the prescription to pay for on top of it too (fill your suitcase with Calpol before you leave!) 'Bulk Billing' is a phrase to look out for if you need a doctor as care at these practices is free and you can visit any surgery unlike in the UK where you are tied to the one closest to home. The vaccinations program is also more intense than what kids are expected to have in the UK too, with schools and childcare providers apparently reserving the right to deny access to your child until proof of a completed schedule is provided and any family support (if you're entitled to it) can also be reduced/denied. Private health insurance is costly as is ambulance cover, which is an absolute essential. If you’re lucky you may qualify for Medicare, which is government funded help with medical costs dependent on your household income.
Banking! To open a bank account in Australia you need identification such a passport, drivers license and an Australian residency address. You’ll need to build up credit ratings before you can apply for credit cards or overdrafts and you will incur foreign exchange transaction costs when moving money from the UK to Australia.
Education! Australia does not have a national curriculum like in the UK and the education each school provides is set by the individual state. The quality of schools really varies so it’s really important to get to know the area and speak to locals to work out which one will be the best fit for your child. Public schools are free for those on a Permanent Residency Visa though be prepared to pay for books, excursion fees and school dinners. It’s also worth noting that school doesn’t start for children until the year they turn 5 with the option of ‘holding them back’ until the following year if their birthday falls between December and April. Until then, the only compulsory education is 4 year old kindergarten, which runs for 15 hours per week and is chargable. The terms are super long here too, with no half-term break as we were accustomed to back in the UK with the longest summer holidays falling during the Christmas period (which we loved as it meant daddy was off work to spend time with the kids too).
Having said all of that (as negative as some of it sounds!) we would never trade the opportunity that we've been given to experience living in another country as a family even if that's for a short time or for the rest of our lives. The winter is upon us now here in Melbourne and although the temperature has dropped to below 10 degrees some days, the rain is rare and the kids are still enjoying the outdoors lifestyle we made the move over here for in the first place. Every day here feels like a new adventure and there is so much to see and do, I feel like we could spend our whole lives exploring and never get bored. There is so much beauty in this part of Australia that we're now lucky enough to call 'home' and the overall positivity in everyone we meet is contagious. What I can promise you is that you'll never know unless you give it a go so if you are considering a move down under this has to be one of the most wonderful places in the world you could ever end up.
What are you considering before making a move to Australia or what do you wish you'd thought of before you left? As always, we would love to hear your thoughts.
Love from Leyla