Want to know what it’s really like to become an expat in Australia?
This post is written from someone who has moved back and forth between England and Australia and from someone who has predominantly been living in Sydney, Central Coast and Mid-North Coast since 2011.
There’s a lot of things I’ve noticed and learnt in the last eight years and maybe some of you might be able to relate to as well.
This post is for you…
It turns out some of you really related to my latest expat post about when I visited England recently (click here to read) so I thought I’d write a bit more in detail about the truth of what it’s like being an expat in Australia.
Some of you might be reading this as maybe you’re not sure if you’re making the right decision to move to Australia.
And some of you might be reading this because are feeling homesick and almost want some reassurance about whether living in Australia is really the right thing for you.
Regardless, this is a long overdue post and this is something I’m not only writing from the heart but also things I’ve picked up on over the years.
Let’s start here.
I’m going to start by saying that England and Australia are actually nothing a like at all. Just because we speak the same language, it’s a completely different culture and the two countries are really nothing a like at all.
In fact, physically the Australian coast line is very similar to the South African coast line and in our opinion a lot of places in America reminded us of Australia if we had to compare. Even Aussie TV is very similar to American TV – they’ve copied so much of it, it’s so weird.
Australia is a country where I’ve learnt to embrace the outdoors because that’s what it does best. I’ve had to swap going to the pub on the weekend for going for a hike instead. And I always thought Aussies just drank Forsters all day long. Truth is, I’ve rarely seen Forsters sold anywhere in Australia and pubs are something every British expat misses terribly.
If you’re moving to Australia, try to embrace the outdoors because you might realise how good we actually have it here, minus the terrible pubs of course.
After spending a lot of time in England, America and Australia recently, I have to admit Australia is without a doubt the best country to live in by a huge mile. It’s incredibly safe and has a brilliant lifestyle.
But, there are things I’ve had to deal with since moving over to Australia. If I knew what it would be like to become an expat, would I have gone through with it? Here’s what I’ve learnt about migrating to Australia.
1. The guilt
Heading straight into one of the things that probably breaks my heart the most – it’s the guilt of leaving my loved ones in England.
The guilt is something I had absolutely no idea even existed until I became an expat. Most of all, I had no idea how long it would stay with me.
I have guilt that I missed my best friends wedding and to be honest, all of my other friends weddings that I should have been there for. I know that was my own doing that I should have just booked the flights but back then a return flight to England was more money than I had. I’ve not only missed my friends wedding, I’ve missed them having kids and their kids knowing who I am.
I’ve missed my twin brother having two children who barely know who I am. I’ve missed another brother having a baby who has never met me. I’ve missed my other nephews who were at Primary School when I left who are now attending high school or college. I’ve missed so many things that when I go back to England, I now feel like an outsider and almost like a stranger because of this. I’ve missed a lot of things that I should have been there for but I wasn’t.
I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like for other people who have kids and still have parents back home because the guilt must be far worse than what I’ve experienced.
It never goes away but the guilt somehow gets easier with time.
2. Going back for visits is not how real life is
The thing I’ve learnt now is to really appreciate the time I have when I do go back for visits. I cram everything in to see as many people as possible to spend quality time with them. These moments are gold dust and something I realise leave me with long lasting memories.
This is the main thing I learnt when I went back to England from Australia recently. Suddenly I realised that spending three weeks with my friends and family meant that I actually spent more time with them than I did in the six months I lived there last year.
This goes to say, one of the reasons why I’d come back to Australia upset before was because I had a brilliant time back in England. But I never realised it was in fact a HOLIDAY. On holiday I’m much more chilled out, much more open to cramming in seeing as many people and doing as many things as possible.
When I moved back to England, I didn’t see friends or family much at all. I was always tired at weekends and spending the majority of it stuck in traffic to go and visit people wasn’t fun at all.
3. Saying good bye never gets easier
No matter how many times I go back and visit friends and family, saying goodbye never gets easier. I’ve cried a lot when I had to leave my loved ones at the airport because the thought of not knowing how long it will be until I see them again is unsettling. Most of all, I wonder what I will miss out on whilst I’m gone again.
It never gets easier at all. Now I’ve worked out that I need to go back more often.
4. Australia feels like so far away
You know in the first four years I lived in Australia, I left the country once to go back to England. Maybe it’s just me, but I always feel like it’s too much of a mission to fly out of Australia, yet alone expensive. And worst of all, I didn’t want to spend my precious holiday time on a plane. Airfares are now much cheaper than they were just a couple of years ago and I’ve got over the Australia is so far away thing.
When I went back to England recently the main thing strangers (like doctors or people who work in shops) would ask me was how I dealt with the flight. My answer was always ‘It’s only a day’, and only a day it is. It’s really not a big deal at all. If you have kids, then maybe that’s another story.
Basically, the main thing I’ve learnt is not to put Australia in a box by thinking I can’t leave because it’s so far away from everywhere else.
A lot of expats find this feeling very isolating and start to see the true value of having so many countries on their doorstep from England. I know I never saw the value of Europe until I moved to Australia. But you know with Brexit and all… the value of Europe is now changing.
5. I still need to do the 9-5
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt around the world on my travels, it’s that everyone is doing the same thing, regardless of what country they are in. Everyone gets up, goes to work and comes back later in the day. This is what everyone does all over the world. I know it’s a no brainer but it’s interesting to see people in this routine everywhere I’ve been to.
The point is, I used to always think Australia is a tropical paradise country where people just sit on the beach all day long. You know, a country where life would be completely different.
The truth is, you still have to get up, and go to work from 9-5… every single day.
The difference is, there’s not as many people around, you won’t be stuck in traffic for hours regardless of how people in Sydney moan about traffic – you’ll actually find it laughable compared to traffic in England.
And there’s a few others differences too which I mention in the next couple of points.
6. I look at sunshine completely differently now
I’ve noticed how I see a sunny day completely differently now I live in Australia. When I’ve visited England, it turns out a beautiful day is basically sunshine with a lot of clouds.
Now I appreciate how lucky I am to live in a country that has so many consistently sunny days that I’ve never seen a sky as blue before. But the sky is so bright here that I can’t leave the house without wearing sunnies. In England you don’t really need them.
When it rains, it pours that I hear stats pop up about how there’s more rain in Sydney in a year than there is in London. Truth is, it’s probably right, but you know, drizzle doesn’t really exist in Australia so we get it all at once.
7. Having a sea view isn’t actually that easy to get
I know I always had this dream to live in somewhere like Bondi and have a view of the ocean. You know, to actually get that dream costs so much money, I had a friend who was paying over $1000 a week for a small one bed apartment with a view of Bronte Beach. But that was over four years ago so who knows how much that would cost now.
If you’re lucky to live near the beach in Australia, you’ll be able to appreciate those early morning and after work dips. But truth be told, the water doesn’t really warm up until around February time – at the end of Summer.
Make sure you get up early to see the sunrise over the ocean because these are the moments that have made me appreciate living in Australia more than anything. It always blows my mind to think I could see the sunrise over Bondi Icebergs and go to work just 30 minutes away.
8. I need space and lots of it
Having been a city girl who loved going out and being right in the middle of it all, I’ve become to love space and nature.
I always wonder every single time we get out of Sydney that there should be another city in the vast amounts of bush as far as the eye can see. And I turn to Steve and say, ‘this would be another city here if we were in England’. But it’s not. You can drive for hours in Australia and not see anything in sight… zip, zero, zilch.
When you see how much land is actually here in Australia, I often think England and Australia are of two extremes – England having too many people in the country and Australia not so much. I know this is a subject people LOVE to talk about but it’s something that’s too obvious not to mention, especially when Australia is 32 times the size of England and with just around a third of the people living in it.
9. I’ve learnt to appreciate history
Every time I go back to England it blows my mind to see places that are really old. Even just by looking up at London architecture or seeing the many cathedrals, castles and beautiful old villages dotted around England, it’s so much more impressive than I ever really thought about since I moved to Australia. It’s funny how you have to move away to appreciate where you’re from.
I’ve had to accept that it’s just something that I won’t see in Australia and that almost every town looks similar over here.
10. Australian culture is a hard one to get my head around
To be honest, I still don’t really know what is classified as being Australian in Australia. Aussies have asked me if Steve is ‘Australian Australian’ and I’ve wondered what does that actually mean?
Interestingly, something that I had no idea about in Sydney in particular is the huge Asian influence. You only have to come out of Sydney airport to see advertising written in Mandarin instead of English. It’s something that surprised me that I didn’t know how much of an Asian influence there is in Australia until I moved here.
10. The News
One thing I’ve picked up over time is the fact that I’m told about news stories in Australia from people in England. My brother often mentions to me how he’s heard a story about Australia and I’m like whaaaat?
Most Brits tend to miss TV the most in Australia because it’s just so terrible over here. You’ll see national news stories and wonder if they are actually having a laugh. No lie, I saw the ABC (Australia’s version to BBC) broadcast a news story about a town 800KM West of Brisbane having a population of three people and there was no mobile reception. They even had a reporter there to talk about it.
I think the worst thing is that although of course I’m all for local new stories but I only ever learn what is going on in the world when I’m back in England. Five minutes watching BBC news and I’m always sat in disbelief with what’s going on. Yeah I know I could just look it up online but you know, if there’s actual news programs, then surely they should be reporting on world news?
This again makes expats in Australia feel isolated – like they have no idea what is going on in the world and feel like they are far away from everywhere else.
11. Making friends can be harder than you think
To be honest with you, a lot of expats struggle to make friends in Australia, especially in Sydney and move back to England because of this. Because people assume England and Australia are similar, they aren’t at all. And that goes with the people as well.
There seems to be a bit of a thing about having money in Sydney. I’ve had bosses literally show me their homes on Google Earth because they like to think they are big which is a bit odd.
But people living in a city to living outside of it are totally different anywhere in the world. Just think about what people are like living in London compared to living anywhere else in England. I’ve noticed in time it’s a bit similar with Sydney and people are friendlier the further away you are from the city.
One thing I’ve mainly picked up about Australian people is that they seem to be slightly different if they’ve travelled. And I’m not talking about going to Europe because a lot of Aussies seem to talk about Europe like it’s one country. I feel like I can connect more if they’ve travelled but maybe that’s just a common ground we already have.
I find English people overall much friendlier when it comes to chit chat on public transport, having a laugh in the pub and just in general. But in Australia there’s no underlying tension that I noticed a lot in England which is a huge sigh of relief. I think in general although people are friendlier in England, people are actually happier in Australia.
In Australia, a lot of Aussies keep to themselves and have their circle of friends that they grew up with. This can be hard for expats to get into these circles which is why expats tend to make friends with people from their own countries.
I also find Aussie guys easier to get on with, like they get my British dry sense of humour because I do tend to laugh at myself a lot. Aussie girls have been a bit harder to crack but if they’ve travelled, they seem to get me much more. This is not a generalisation of course, just something I’ve picked up on.
But I do miss my friends terribly. I’m lucky I have a school friend in Sydney and she said something to me recently which stuck: ‘there’s nothing like old friends’. She’s right.
12. Getting a job in Australia isn’t easy
I remember working in England and it was the norm to change jobs every two years and even careers. In Australia they tend to have this old school way of thinking that unless you have been working in the industry for x amount of years, then you don’t get a look in. To change careers is very hard in Australia. From personal experience, recruiters don’t see skills as being transferable.
Interestingly, I just saw on the news how even Aussie expats returning to Australia are finding it hard to get work here.
To be honest, if I was thinking about moving to Australia for career purposes, I’d move to London. There are way more jobs and more global companies hiring there. If you’re thinking of moving to have a better quality of life with your family then move to Australia.
13. I’ll never feel settled, but Australia is my home.
When I moved to Australia, I never really knew I was opening a massive door. Turns out I’ve now realised that I’ll never feel settled in Australia, just like I won’t ever feel settled in England now.
Sometimes I wonder what if I hadn’t moved to Australia, would I be much happier not knowing what a life as an expat would bring me? Having the guilt of being so far away from my friends is hard, but is it all worth it? Maybe I wouldn’t have ever felt like I didn’t belong in England if I hadn’t gone down this route.
I’ll never feel like I can 100% fit in because I think as an expat I’m not sure if anyone ever truely can. But, I definitely feel like Australia is my home now. Yeah there’s some things I find weird or a bit behind the times in Australia but overall it’s where I want to be.
When I’m asked what do I love about living in Australia, my answer is always that Australia brings out the best version of me. I don’t know if it’s because of the sunshine, the beach, the healthy lifestyle or what, but I’ve definitely realised that it makes me want to be a good person here.
Although it’s so nice to go back to England, I couldn’t live there now. I couldn’t deal with the lack of personal space, the traffic, the terrible pay or the overall lifestyle. And Australia is the reason for feeling like this. It’s made me grow into becoming a different person, but a better person for it.
Once I broke it down about what actually makes me happy, I realised Australia is the country for me to live in. It’s taken me eight years to work it out but I feel like I now know. I always thought the sunshine and beach weren’t enough which is why I moved back to England. Then I realised that Australia actually offers a lot more than that.
And I suppose you’ll never know what that really means unless you move here.
I hope in some way this has helped any of you living in Australia or who are thinking of moving over.
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