Meet Mike Monogios who by chance, met his Australian partner, Berny O’Connor, in his home Greek Island of Ios in 2015. In this month’s Expat Story of The Month, we find out how Mike and Berny kept in touch for three years before randomly meeting again. After a long-distance romance, they decided to take the plunge on a partner visa and Mike moved to Brisbane in 2019 just before Covid hit.
Read on to learn how Mike swapped working in hospitality in Greece for €2.5 an hour from 8am to 5am in the summer months, to enjoying a new industry in Brisbane while appreciating weekends off and sick pay. You can follow Mike on Instagram at @mikemonogios and his Aussie partner Berny at @berns_life.
Table of Contents
Realising I needed to move to Australia
Berny and I met in 2015 in my home town of the Greek Island, Ios. I was living the life working at a pool bar, Hotel Hermes, where Berny and her friends were staying for the week from Australia and we formed a really strong friendship! Although Berny was playing hard to get; I knew she was the one that escaped after having the best week together.
In 2016, I left Greece and moved to Birmingham, UK to pursue career opportunities.
Berny loved Ios so much she decided to go back and spend the summer of 2017 working on the Island, where she got a job in a restaurant owned by friends of my family… Small world huh… but I was not in Ios at this time.
In 2018, three years after we first met, Berny was in London with her family; the timing was finally right for us and we arranged to meet in Birmingham for four days. After Berny went home to Brisbane, I just knew I needed to get to Australia and see this girl again. Four months later I made it to Australia, had the best holiday of my life and I knew immediately that I wanted to live here.
Preparing to move to Australia
After my holiday to Australia and knowing our end goal was for me to move, we started researching the available options. Being Greek, the options were limited to:
1. Prospective Marriage
2. Partner Visa
3. Student Visa
The best option for us was the partner visa and we spent the next 8 months, having a long-distance relationship, flying across the world. Berny would come to Birmingham or we’d both meet in Ios and stayed with my family, all while we researched and compiled everything we could for our partner visa application.
Using a migration agent to lodge the partner visa
In November 2019 I entered Australia on a 3-month tourist visa which meant that I could not work during this time. Through our research, I was prepared for this and saved enough money to survive.
After one month in Australia, we lodged the partner visa application. Subclass 820 and 801. Once my tourist visa ended, I automatically moved onto a bridging visa, which I am still currently on at the time of writing.
Berny and I decided to use an Immigration lawyer to help us apply. Obviously, there are extra costs involved with a lawyer roughly $3,500, taking the total of the visa application to over $11,000. From the initial consultation with our lawyer, she was able to provide us with the best advice to apply once I was in Australia on an on-shore visa. If I submitted it off-shore, we would have to wait for the visa to be granted, which can take years and given the current climate of Covid – 19, it may never have happened.
Thankfully we had a lot of evidence from over the years and time spent travelling together we compiled everything we could including photos, communication, booking confirmations, flights, invitations, presents, receipts, bills, rental agreements and simply anything that was addressed to both of us.
Another thing that we decided to do before submitting the visa application was to go to the registry office in Brisbane and apply for a civil partnership or de facto relationship certificate. The process was super easy! Complete a form online with relevant information and personal identification and pay a fee of about $50. A few weeks later we received a certificate of de facto relationship in the mail.
Our lawyer had a fantastic client portal, and every document that was required for the application had a name and an upload box, all we had to do was log in and upload the relevant documents. When the lawyer was happy with our application it was submitted to the Department of Home Affairs.
A friend once told Berny not long after we had met; “no matter how serious things seem between the two of you, start documenting your relationship. If it ends up being something you want to pursue you will need every piece of evidence.” At the time Berny just laughed this off, but it couldn’t be more true!
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Deciding what luggage to bring to Australia
I moved to Australia with one suitcase and backpack! I made sure I packed my essential PlayStation into my carry on backpack and it made the long journey to Australia with me.
When I arrived in Australia, I moved in with Berny, she was living in a share house with friends at the time. Four months after arriving in Australia and I had started working, Berny and I moved into our own rental house. Berny had some furniture, but we still had to buy a few necessities: Lounge, TV and washing machine.
When it came to buying our furniture we shopped around and purchased at the shop with the best price. Some items we even purchase through Facebook Marketplace as second-hand items, you can get some bargains, in great conditions!
Getting support from friends & family to move to Australia
My family were already used to me living away from home, after living in the UK for three years. Although Australia is a lot further away they were still very happy and supportive of me to follow my dreams!
My family knew I had an opportunity for a more sustainable way of living, a life with a stable job and income. I have an uncle who lives in Perth, Australia, although thanks to Covid, we have not been able to visit each other yet. My parents have never been to Australia and hope to visit when international travel takes off again!
Berny’s family have welcomed me into theirs and make birthdays and Christmas special occasions, although Christmas never feels like Christmas in Australia! Hot weather, eating cold meats and seafood, just doesn’t feel like a European Christmas! The only good thing is if you are by the beach you can go swimming and fishing!
I am lucky to have friends all around the world that whom I am still in regular contact with! Lots of my mates still live in Greece and other friends in the UK.
Finding work in Australia
The day I could legally work in Australia on my Bridging Visa, I started working at a restaurant in Brisbane. One of the most difficult things about coming to Australia on a Tourist Visa meant that I couldn’t work for the first three months. Money was not an issue, as I was prepared for that, I was however not prepared for three months of boredom and frustration.
As time progressed, I enrolled in training to ensure I was ready to start working as soon as I was able to. I completed my RSA and RSG as these were not applicable in the UK or Greece. I also wanted to explore other job opportunities outside of the hospitality industry so that I could enjoy my weekends and spend time with Berny.
However I was willing to take what I could and I started labouring, which has since opened up many opportunities, where I have learnt many new skills. The timing was perfect considering the months that followed.. Covid.. If I had stayed in hospitality, I would have been without work again!
I was extremely frustrated while not working because I was so keen to work, but the visa wouldn’t allow me to. My best advice to anyone who may be in this situation, spend your time wisely doing things that can help you find work!
Appreciating work-life balance in Australia
Australian life is definitely laid back compared to Greece, weekends, public holidays, annual leave – four weeks of paid holiday a year! Sickies! I may have grown up on a Greek Island, but days off just did not exist during the summer! I started working at the age of 12, as I got older I worked two jobs, day & night, with a few hours sleep if I was lucky 😉 Our rest time was in the winter months and island life was very different and quiet.
The difference between working life in Australia to Greece, is I have more of a routine here. I work Monday – Friday, 8+ hours a day and go home to a refreshing beer! The best part is I have the weekends!
Making friends in Australia
Berny has a close group of friends, who have grown up together! I met a lot of these people on my holiday to Australia, everyone was so welcoming and I have formed good friendships, and fit in well with these people. I did however find it difficult to make friends of my own.
I am confident, outgoing and social and am always down for a beer and a party! Four months after arriving in Brisbane, Covid hit, making it extremely difficult to meet new people and make mates of my own. The only place I was making friends was at work, but at the peak of covid, we could only go to work meaning no socializing outside of work.
Thankfully Covid restrictions have eased in Australia and we have been able to spend more time with mates and go out and enjoy more.
Working in Greece vs Australia
Money Money Money… Cigarettes are ridiculously expensive, you need to work 2 hours to buy a pack of tobacco here in Australia, compared to Greece. Food is often cheap in Greece, you can buy a famous Yiros for 2.5 Euro each. I often refuse to buy Yiros here in Australia because you pay nearly $20 for one! However, in saying that, everything is different, the cost of living in Europe is cheaper for some things and more expensive for others.
The minimum wage and working conditions in Greece are terrible.. I was paid 2.5 Euro an hour, worked two jobs, crazy long hours all summer, to do nothing in the winter.
A summers day for me looked like this: start work at the pool bar as early as 8am somedays, working and drinking all day till 10pm, then go home for a shower and head to my second job in the village – Ios blue bar and nightclub where I worked until close at 5am. Depending on how I was feeling I would often head out to other clubs or go home for a few hours of sleep. This routine continued all summer normally from May to October.
In Australia, you can earn really good wages and businesses and the government offer great benefits; annual leave, sick pay, long service leave, penalty rates for working overtime, super, and medicare including free public healthcare.
In Greece, there is no such thing as holiday pay, so I am always grateful for the opportunity to live in Australia.
Trying to transfer my motorbike licence was a nightmare
One of the biggest challenges I experienced in my first year here was trying to get my driver’s license. The only license that I had from Greece was my motorbike / scooter license. You would think it would be a simple process to convert your license to Australian, well let me tell you it was not..
In the state of Queensland to have a motorbike license, you need a car license.. So I had to apply for my learner car license, I did the online tests and went to the local transport office and got my learners. Then I found out that because I was under the age of 25, I must complete 100 hours of supervised driving with someone who has an open license and I must hold the learner license for one year before I can sit my test for P plates. In the middle of Covid, license tests were suspended, with a huge backlog when they reopened.
I eventually got my license first go and have so much more freedom and drive a work van every day for my job. I have found some of the Australian rules and regulations difficult to understand at times.
My advice for anyone who wants to drive in Australia is to try and have it before arriving here and hopefully it will transfer to Australia easily.
No one ever told us it would be easy, but it will be worth it!
For anyone who may be about to embark on the journey of moving countries, or exploring the partner visa, your family and friends are your biggest supporters and advocates. For us, having both families and friends on either side of the world has been an amazing support. At the end of the day, we are so grateful to have each other and be on this journey together.
Mike & Berny’s update
Since Mike and Berny wrote this story, they have relocated to the beautiful Whitsunday region of Airlie Beach in April 2022 and are enjoying a relaxing way of life.
In June 2022, nearly three years after arriving in Australia, Mike was granted his Australian Permanent Residency! They are both excited and relieved that Mike can permanently live in this wonderful country! Although the partner visa process was lengthy, it was worth it for the life they now live in paradise.
A big thank you to Mike and Berny for sharing their Expat Story of The Month. If you would like to share your move to Australia and help thousands of Londoner In Sydney readers, simply fill out this form.