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How Emma’s Family Swapped Sydney For Van Life Around Australia

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In this month’s Expat Story Of The Month, we hear from Emma Weir, an expat from Brighton, UK. After living in Sydney, her family swapped city life for van life around Australia. She shares what her experience has been like living in Down Under for the last five years as well as being able to jump on the first official flight out of Australia to spend two months back home for Christmas.

Make sure you follow Emma’s family while they travel around Australia in their van, at @weirhere on Instagram.


Why I Moved To Balmain, Sydney

We moved to Australia with my husband’s job in January 2017 with our two sons Farran (5 years old) and Niven (2 years old). His office was in Sydney, so we looked for suburbs near his office that were family friendly. We were lucky to have a relocation agent! And, as an ex-Brit herself, she recommended Balmain in the inner-west of Sydney as a good suburb to move to.

Unsure where to live in Sydney? Read our 10 Suburbs Where Expats Live In Sydney Guide.

Close to the city and all its attractions, we liked the village feel of the area and its green outdoor spaces right on the harbour. I also liked having a community of British expats on my doorstep – there are a lot in Balmain!


It Took Just Six Months To Move

Brighton-beach-england
Brighton, UK

There was only about six months from my husband telling me there was a position in Sydney to us getting on the plane. We were flown out for the interview in October and stayed in Sydney for 6 weeks to discover whether it was the place for us. We went home to the UK for Christmas and packed up the house for the move in January. Here we are 5 years later!


Organising Australia Visas

We’re currently in the citizenship queue, but before that we were here on a 457 visa and sponsored by Kieran’s company. The whole process was pretty stressful, getting the right documents, waiting for the visa to come through on the day we were leaving.

I am not particularly organised, but Kieran is. He made sure we had dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s, and we had the help of his HR team too.

If you’re looking to organise your visa, drop our migration agent, AUREC Migration & Mobility a message with your questions or concerns for free!


Shipping Our Stuff Over To Sydney

After having a huge sort out, we packed up our house and sent it all over to Sydney on a ship. We were lucky that Kieran’s job paid for this part, and they also included our cat Boo. She was flown over with Jet Pets.

The house we rented was unfurnished so we rented some furniture while we waited for the shipping container to arrive. We got used to minimalistic living, so by the time everything arrived we really wanted to just send it all back again.

However, the kids were delighted to see their toys. And we were over the moon to have Boo cat with us. She really made a difference to us feeling like we were home.

Check out our shipping page to organise shipping your belongings to Australia, no matter where you live.


Leaving Friends & Family

Our friends and family were sad when we told them the news of us leaving. Some of them were very envious (we left the UK as Brexit was happening, so I think quite a few people wanted out at the time), but on the whole they were happy for us.

I think they all expected us to be back within 2 years (I did too). Now we’ve been here 5 years and Covid has happened, so much has changed.

Our families were happy that we were safer over here, but not being able to travel back has been really hard on us and our families.


Finding Work In Australia

Kieran’s job in video games was already set-up when we got here, and I freelanced as a Social Media Manager. I still had a client back in the UK who I continued to work with, and one of my new neighbours set me up with a freelance job with her company, which was so lucky!

I then worked for a Digital Marketing Consultancy in Sydney – it was the best job ever. I met some amazing people and learned so much. Our clients were Australian wineries and an Australian tea brand. It really helped my knowledge of Australian geography and agriculture (and improved my tastebuds!)

Kieran’s office closed down during Covid and he was made redundant at the end of 2020. We took the opportunity to take some time out and we’ve been enjoying a new life travelling Australia in our caravan for the last year. It’s been incredible! This country is enormous and the adventures are endless.


Working in England vs working in Australia

My work/life balance here in Australia has been great. Flexibility around the boys has been brilliant too. I think I was very lucky with the company I worked for, as I have heard that it’s not always that way.

I used to burn the midnight oil a lot back in the UK and never take a lunch break, but here it seems the norm to get a break and leave the office at 5pm.

One of the main reasons we moved here was because Kieran wasn’t getting any time with the kids. He commuted from Brighton to Dublin and was away a lot. Before that, he was travelling backwards and forwards to London. We were sick of it. Here he has much more of parenting role and gets to be Dad all the time.


Making Friends In Australia

Making friends was something I prioritised when we arrived in Sydney. I became the “yes” woman and went anywhere that I was invited to. School became my saviour, as I immediately met a whole community of Mums and Dads who I saw regularly.

I’d also recommend volunteering and joining local clubs or activities. I joined my local pub choir and made some amazing friends that way. I can also thank Instagram for introducing me to some awesome like-minded people.


How The Kids Felt About Moving To Sydney

My boys were excited about moving to Australia but a little bit too young to understand. They now know how far alway we are from our families now they are older. They love it here.

The great outdoors and weather mean that they live an extraordinary life – simple yet amazing. I think they’d miss the sunshine if we were in the UK full-time!

But again, they miss their grandparents a lot and are always talking about visiting them.

We’ve just come back from a trip to the UK and there have been some tears when they realise how far away we are. It can be really heartbreaking sometimes, I’m not going to lie.

We have enjoyed the fact that Niven (our youngest) could start school later here. He didn’t start until he was 5.5yrs old, whereas he would have been just 4 in the UK. There’s a lot of play based learning here too, which has suited my boys. What I am still trying to get my head around is the obsession with private schools!!


A Few Expat Moving To Australia Tips

Don’t underestimate the homesickness – by far the hardest thing was leaving my family and friends, and it still is.

Be prepared to feel like a fish out of water for a while. It’s natural to ask whether you’ve done the right thing, just give it time.

Two years seems to be the magic point for most expats. It’s a long time to wait to feel ok, but it gives you a chance to become a local and cement friendships.

Woolies and Coles supermarkets have a British section – go get some “real” Dairy Milk or get your family to send you care packages of your favourite things to give you a taste of home when you need it.

It’s not all sunshine and beaches. Make sure you pack your jumpers, winter is freezing! Not so much outside, but inside the houses. There is no central heating and most places are draughty as anything. This is why UGG boots are popular here!

You can get sunburnt on a cloudy day – trust me, we found out the hard way, and then never again. Factor 50 forever!


We Were On The First Flight Back To England In November 2021

We were in Darwin when the first official flights left in November 2021, so we jumped on them to visit friends and family back home in UK for Christmas.

We didn’t need a visa to get back to England or an exemption. We all have UK passports, so we just waited for the Australian borders to open. We were in Darwin when this happened, and the first flights just so happened to be out of Darwin, with Qantas. Double vaccination was a requirement, but other than that no other admin was needed.


Seeing Friends & Family For The First Time Since Covid

We hadn’t been back to the UK as a family for three and a half years and that felt far too long. We always intended on going home every other year at least. It felt amazing to see our friends and family in real life after so many months and years of lockdown and stress.

It’s been so hard seeing them struggle from afar, we couldn’t help but worry for them. Being able to give them a proper hug and sit on their sofa with a cup of tea was such a treat.

Getting there was incredibly stressful, but worth it. It was so bizarre being in the airport at Darwin, nothing was open, it was seriously quiet and I really didn’t believe we would be getting on the flight. I was only able to relax once we were in the air to be honest.

The day before had been so stressful, as there was conflicting information around whether we needed a negative PCR test to get on the flight, as well as the vaccination certificate. It was too late to organise the PCR and we sat on hold with Qantas for 4 hours before we gave up.

In the end my husband went to the airport to speak to a ground staff member in person, who knew as little as we did. Thankfully we didn’t need the PCR and we got on the flight with no issues, but it really did feel like we were on a wing and a prayer.

There was a bit of a party atmosphere on the flight, the stewards were excited to be on the first tourist flight out of Australia and there was some lovely clapping and whooping when we landed!

We were on the direct flight from Darwin to London Heathrow, so it was a long way to travel – 17hrs in a face mask! Coming in over London and seeing all the lights below was quite overwhelming, I hadn’t realised how much I’d needed to see the UK again.


Covid rules in England vs Australia

It felt like life as normal when we arrived in early November, there were no check-ins at shops or restaurants, wearing masks was only really evident on public transport, which then became a legal requirement later on in our trip.

Shops were busy because of Christmas, but I noticed those wearing masks were normally over 40 and younger people weren’t bothered. Pubs and restaurants were packed in the parts of London and Brighton we visited, which was so good to see, but as Christmas was nearing I think more and more people decided to stay home to protect their older relatives.

Things had definitely changed by the time we left at the end of December. I think the increase in numbers gave everyone a reality check.


We Feel Safer In Australia

We feel safer in Australia, but we have been in very remote parts of the country for most of 2021. We arrived in WA last April and we’ve been in the NT since September.

Numbers are so low here that we’ve been in a bit of a bubble really. It was a big risk going to the UK, but we felt it was worth it. Being away from family and friends for years on end was just getting too much to bear.

And somehow we managed to dodge Covid while we were in the UK. We had our boosters there and tried to meet people outside as much as possible. We know we were very lucky!


Temptation To Stay In England

I’m always trying to decide where to live! However, we had two months with family and friends, so we felt incredibly grateful for that.

I am always debating whether to stay or go, but now isn’t the right time for us to return to the UK.

I’m sure we will one day, it will always be my home, but we still have lots to do in Australia and we love the life it gives our family, particularly the boys while they’re young.


Getting Back Into Australia

We were terrified about getting back into Australia, but we decided that if we got turned away at the airport for whatever reason, then we would just look at it as extended time with our family. I was a tiny bit disappointed when we got through departures to be totally honest!

There was a whole heap of stress before getting on the plane. We had been with a family member on Christmas Day who tested positive for Covid on the 26th December. We flew on the 30th December and we were obviously really worried we would get it too.

We had our pre-flight tests and then tested every morning until we flew, and through some miracle remained negative. Back in the NT we’ve had to test again and we’re still all good! It’s such a relief!


Coming Back To Darwin

We’ve just landed back in Darwin, jet-lagged and very hot. It’s quite a shock to the system compared to UK winter! It’s so quiet here too. England is so busy, that’s definitely something we noticed when we were back there.

Again, I think it’s more noticeable because we’re in a remote part of Australia, but England is much more bustling for sure. And no one does pubs like the UK.


Future Plans In Australia

We’re definitely going to be here for the next few years, but who knows what the future holds? Life and plans seems so fragile these days. We have so much more to explore here, even though we’ve been travelling for 10 months of the last year!

When we left Sydney last January to do a half lap, we had no idea we would love the travelling life so much.

Getting a caravan and leaving work behind has been so good for us, that we’d like to continue for a bit longer.

We haven’t seen Queensland properly yet and we have fallen in love with Western Australia. We’d love to live in a different state after living in NSW for 4 years.


Heading Back To England? Here’s My Tips

Christmas-in-london

Get your paperwork for flying printed out and in a folder. Faffing around on your mobile looking for documents is too stressful and what if your mobile battery dies or you can’t get WiFi etc? Good old fashioned paperwork is the way to go.

Book you PCR tests with a reputable company, do your research online first. There were so many horror stories online with people not getting their results back in time for their flights. Hassle you don’t need.

In the UK you can order RAT tests online for free that get delivered to your door the next day. Our parents ordered them in advance for us, so we could test whenever we needed to. Which was a lot!

I thought I’d ask the kids for their thoughts:

My 10 year old advises, “Don’t go to London unless you have to”.

My kids couldn’t believe their eyes how busy it was at places like Oxford Street. They had never seen so many people in one place.

My 7 year old saw snow for the first time, he says “Pack your warm clothes, you won’t need sunscreen”. It’s true. We had to buy more winter clothes when we got there, you forget how cold it gets.


A big thanks to Emma and her family for sharing their expat story! If you would like to share yours, simply fill out this form to be considered for the next Expat Story Of The Month on Londoner In Sydney!

Want to read more stories? Check out our Expat Story Of The Month series!

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