The next instalment in the Expat Interview Series! I’ve reached out to expats in different countries to hear why people might choose to move abroad, and how they do it. If you want to know more about moving to a particular country this is the place. If you’re interested in taking part, or want to see a certain place featured let me know!
With so many Kiwis and Aussies moving to the UK, and so many Brits moving to Australia how could I not interview someone else about their experience?! I lived in Australia for two years, although not in such a trendy place as Melbourne, and it’s always interesting to hear about people moving to Australia from the other side of the world, and compare it to my own perspective. Kat from Kat is Travelling moved from the UK last year, and she has some great tips on what to see and do in Melbourne and how you can move there too!
What made you decide to move to Melbourne?
I’ve always wanted to travel to Australia. My mum spent 2 years living here in her early twenties and she still talks about it all the time so I guess that’s what planted the idea in my head. I knew I didn’t just want to come on a holiday and anyway it’s not really practical because you have to come for longer than 2 weeks to make it worth the flight time and cost, which I couldn’t do with my job. I’d been there for three years and I was a bit sick of it and looking to move on, then I realised that it was the perfect opportunity to finally go! So I looked into ways I could come here for a longer period of time and when I found the working holiday visa I applied, was approved, and then booked my flight.
I knew I wouldn’t spend the whole year travelling because at some point I would need to work for money that would enable me to stay for the whole year (and possibly beyond) and I wanted to experience living in another country rather than just being a constant visitor to different places.
When I arrived in Sydney I spent 6 weeks travelling up the East Coast, spending lots of money and not holding back on anything, knowing that when I reached Cairns I would fly to one of the cities to look to live and work. I ended up choosing Melbourne because it seemed like the place that would be the best fit for me.
Melbourne is known for its culture. It’s a bit more laid back than Sydney but still has loads to do. It has loads of festivals, markets, theatre, comedy, art and music. It’s the centre of Australian film, the sporting capital (not that I’m a big follower of sport but I did go to the Australian Open), the country’s city of literature etc. There’s a lot of creativity in the city and I’ve always loved the creative arts so it seemed like the place to be.
The huge food scene here was also a big draw, and of course I love coffee!
Tell me about the cost of living. What’s the price of a beer and a loaf of bread?
A lot of people say that Australia is an expensive place to travel to. For me it didn’t seem that way even when I wasn’t working because I live near London, where the cost of living is so much higher than the cost of the average person’s earnings. Also the conversion rate has been working in our favour recently, the $AUD is roughly ½ the £.
I can see that compared to some other parts of the world it might be considered expensive to visit but if you are working then it can be really affordable to live here. A lot of Brits actually seem to come over here specifically to save money that they just wouldn’t be able to at home because the wages are higher and the living costs are generally lower.
In general Melbourne is cheaper than Sydney and again you’d probably pay less living out of the cities. I live in a Northern suburb around 15 minutes by train from the city centre in a double room in a 3 person houseshare and my rent (including bills & internet) is around $175.00AUD a week. Train travel is so cheap compared to the UK so it’s worth living that bit further out. My weekly travelcard costs $35.00AUD
Groceries are probably a similar cost to at home i.e. a loaf of bread will set you back $3-4, and the same with alcohol, which is one of the most expensive things you can buy here.
How did you find the job seeking process?
It was honestly harder than I expected it to be but I do think it depends on what industry you have experience in. Melbourne is full of cafes and restaurants where they hire casual staff regularly and so there are always jobs available. I have friends with hospitality experience who got a job within days of being here just by handing out their resumes locally. All of my previous experience is office-based and those kind of positions tend to require long-term employees.
One of the conditions of a working holiday visa is that you can only work for one employer for up to six months so this rules you out of a lot of opportunities. I ended up with my job only after they hired someone else with less experience who didn’t work out. They then contacted me and told me that the 6 month limit had initially put them off employing me but they’d reconsidered because I was the most experienced candidate.
Do you need a visa to live in Australia?
Yes you do need a visa. Being from the UK and under 30 I was able to apply for a Working Holiday Visa to come and live and work here for a year. The visa can also be extended for another year if you complete 88 days of paid regional work. If you want to stay beyond that you have to find a company that is willing to sponsor you.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
There’s so much to do in Melbourne and it can offer you a really great social life. I’m pretty convinced if you went to a different bar or restaurant every single day you wouldn’t run out of places to go for years!
A lot of people make friends through their job when they move to a new place, which hasn’t really been possible for me because I’m the only one working in the office and I don’t see a lot of people other than my boss and the people coming in and out.
However because I travelled a little bit before I got to Melbourne I met people along the way in hostels and on tours who have either ended up here or already lived here. It’s made it a lot easier to already have that network in place because then you meet people through their friends too. I also stayed in a hostel for the first two weeks of my time in Melbourne which was a good way to meet people and a much larger majority of the people who stay in hostels in the big cities are looking to stay for at least several months rather than just passing through.
What’s the best thing about living in Melbourne?
I love how the city constantly surprises me. I’ve lived here for 4 months now and some days I’ll be wandering around and discover something I’ve never noticed before. There is always something new going on that I feel like you could never get bored. Every single weekend there’s a festival, market or event to check out and it’s always buzzing. A lot of effort goes into the big events, like they just had White Night where the whole city is turned into an art display using light projections, and there was such a community spirit. Not only does every building and institution get involved and put work into their displays but the amount of people who came out to see it was incredible, it was equivalent to New Year’s Eve. It seems like everyone really appreciates the effort that goes in to these kind of events. There’s an enthusiasm about living here amongst the local people that I’ve never found anywhere else.
What’s the hardest thing about living in Melbourne?
Personally the hardest thing for me about living here is just being away from my family and closest friends back in the UK but it’s hard to get too homesick because the culture is very similar here. Especially on those days when we get 4 seasons of weather in a day, it feels just like home!
If we had just one day in Melbourne what should we not miss?
There are tons of museums in Melbourne but my favourite is the Australian Centre of Moving Image (ACMI) in Federation Square. They always have interesting exhibits on there but there’s also a permanent collection celebrating the history of Australian film, tv, video games and the internet, which is free and well worth a look. If you’ve ever wanted to see a real life Oscar (one of) Cate Blanchett’s lives there.
Just across the bridge is the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s free entry to the permanent collection and there is so much in there you could easily spend a whole day trying to see it all. It’s well worth a visit.
The Shrine of Remembrance is a beautiful spot in the Botanical Gardens to sit and relax and you can also get a great view over the city.
If you have the time it’s worth taking a tram to St Kilda. This is the closest beach in Melbourne and, while I don’t think it compares to the beaches in Sydney, the area is nice and the pier is one of the most photographed spots of the city. If you go at dawn or dusk you can catch a glimpse of the tiny penguins that live by the breakwater.
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Melbourne what would it be?
One of the great things about Melbourne is that there are lots you can do without spending very much money. Take advantage of the many free attractions and get to know which restaurants do deals on certain days (lots of them do!)
When it comes to looking for a job use any contacts you might have. So many jobs are found through word of mouth. If you don’t know anyone ask the people where you’re staying (whether it’s in a hostel or flat-share) and go around handing out resumes. A lot of the small cafes and restaurants won’t advertise online but through signs in the windows because it’s so easy for them to fill their positions – so keep your eyes peeled and then approach them in person.
My only other piece of advice… try not to develop an addiction to coffee!
Kat left the UK last year and moved to Australia in search of sunnier climes (and koalas!) After 6 weeks travelling the east coast she settled in Melbourne where she currently spends her weekdays working and weekends exploring the city and the suburbs.