The next installment 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!
I first visited Sydney as a wide-eyed 9-year-old and was amazed by the bustling streets and the beautiful beaches so close to the city centre. I’ve returned several times since and even lived in Australia for a couple of years, although not in Sydney. However, it is a dream expat destination for many so I’m excited to share this interview with Cally from How Not to Sail a Boat about moving to Sydney and what you need to know!
Tell us about yourself
I grew up in a small farming town in Canada, where the status quo and the norm is pretty well maintained. The expectation was you graduate from high school, go to college, get a job, buy a house, get married and have kids and settle into a daily routine similar to how you were raised. If you were adventurous, you might go on an annual overseas holiday, typically to an all-inclusive resort.
I was always different from everyone back home. Always craving more adventure, wanting to learn more about other cultures from what we would experience at a resort, always wondering if that is all there was to life.
But I followed the norm – I went to college right after high school and obtained my Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Accounting. I moved straight onto my career phase becoming a Chartered Accountant and buying my first house.
However, at this point, I had the thought ‘What am I doing? Is this really me?’ and that is when everything changed.
What made you decide to move to Sydney?
Since I had done the responsible career thing, I was lucky enough to be able to find a job overseas before taking off. This was kind of like my crutch of wanting adventure but being afraid to stray away from the norm that I grew up with.
My job hunt started in Sydney because I loved the water. I had been on a sailing trip before, I learned to surf in the frigid waters of Canada on a trip to the coast, I had learned to scuba dive. Sydney was a city with a great Central Business District for work but also a lot of nearby beach suburbs to get the lifestyle and adventure side of things!
I landed an Accounting job almost immediately in Sydney, Australia and rented out my house, packed up or sold all my possessions and left for a country I had never before set foot in.
Tell me about the cost of living in Sydney
I think that the longer you are in a place the more you become accustomed to the prices. I think that Sydney seemed normal to cost of living in Canada in terms of things like groceries, drinks out at a bar etc (where a beer might cost $6-8 at a pub, a cocktail would set you back $14-18). However, when my family visited they were a little shocked by the price of things.
Housing is a whole separate thing! Rent is by the week in Australia and in a beach suburb like Manly you might find a room in a 3-bedroom apartment for $350 per week.
However, regardless of these prices I was paid very well, much more compared to my counterparts doing the same job back in Canada. So I felt it all evened out in the end. If anything, I think I saved more money than I would have living back in Canada!
How did you find the job seeking process?
Australia is a country that is really lacking in skilled labor. Therefore, if you are degree qualified (or more, like me) the job hunt was really quite easy!
In accounting, there are recruiters constantly seeking to place you, and I managed to ‘transfer’ from my Canadian firm because we had international affiliates. My best tip would be to look at websites like seek.com.au as recruiters and employers both advertise on the site.
Do you need a visa to live in Sydney?
You definitely need a visa and I was given a great tip by a recruiter before I landed my job:
“Either you are here in person to interview and you may get a sponsored visa job, or you get your own visa and you may get hired via Skype before you get here.”
I can see, in retrospect how right this was. Obtaining a working holiday visa for the first few months (easy and affordable) would enable your prospective employers to meet you and get a feel for you. You may even get a temporary position in your field to get some in-country experience.
Alternatively, if you have certain skills and can obtain your own permanent residency visa prior to your arrival, it’s less of a hassle for the employer who no longer has to worry about visa sponsorship and helps to remove one big obstacle to hiring you to be a part of their team.
Visa laws are constantly changing in Australia, they have already changed since I became a permanent resident so if you are doing anything more than a working holiday visa consider talking to an immigration lawyer.
What’s the social scene like? How easy is it to make friends?
Sydney draws expats from all over the world, as do many cities in Australia, so the social scene is great! I lived in a small suburb by the beach, but I was only ever a 20-minute ferry ride away from some incredible nightlife and foodie scenes in the city.
Making friends I would say is easier than in many cities around the world because so many people are in the same boat as you are!
What’s the hardest thing about living in Sydney?
For me, it is being away from family. I have a few incredibly cute nieces that I only get to see once a year (other than Skype) because Australia really is located on the other side of the world from everywhere!
But it is a place that feels more like home than my real home ever did because it feels like I belong. And that is a feeling that I cannot believe I ever went without. Life is all about sacrifices I guess!
What’s the best thing about living in Sydney?
The water. The coastline is stunning, the surf and snorkeling are incredible and the weather just entices you to take part in it year round (well most of the year, you have to love it for some of the chillier winter days)!
How is your new home different from your old one?
Culturally Australia and Canada are pretty similar, however, I found that the people drawn to Australia and to its incredible beaches and outdoor activities are people who are a lot like me. So while in many ways both of my ‘homes’ are the same, the feeling is like nothing I can describe.
It really made me look at myself and take a good hard look at what I am interested in and what I want out of life. The norm expected back home was definitely not for me, so Australia let me explore all those things that I might be interested in that were not available back home.
It only further magnified my love of water, and the end result is that after four years in this incredible country, my boyfriend and I are leaving Australia on a multi-year trip to sail our newly purchased, secondhand sailboat around the world. Bit of a different adventure I am living that I envisioned for my life when I was living back in Canada!
If we had just one day in Sydney what should we not miss?
The food and the ocean.
Start your day with an amazing breakfast in the city, no one does avocado on toast better than Australia. And in Sydney, Pablo & Rusty’s in the city has the best Heirloom Tomato Avocado Smash I ever could have dreamed of.
Enjoy views of the famous Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge as you jump on the iconic Manly ferry.
When you get to Manly, be sure to take a stroll down to Shelly Beach and bring your snorkel and beach gear as it is a marine protected area and one of my favourite spots to look for cuttlefish, stingrays, and weedy sea dragons.
Lunch in Manly should be something simple like the Manly Style Lentil Momo’s at the Manly Momo Bar (or a Poke Bowl from the same place). Or if you are not craving that, wander up the main street called ‘The Corso’ and find almost anything you could be craving!
Spend the afternoon on a quick hike up into the North Head National Park and take in the views from the top of the North Entrance to the harbour. The same place where Captain Cook sailed into Botany Bay so many years before. If you want even more history, make your way down to Quarantine Beach – the beach where new arrivals to the country were quarantined to ensure new diseases were not introduced to the country (better yet as a night tour as they offer a haunted ghost tour).
In the evening, make your way back on a sunset ferry to the city and take in one of the many cool eateries or bars. You can go to cool like venues in suburbs like Newtown or hit up a classy restaurant in the Rocks or Barangaroo area.
The perfect day in Sydney… <3
When you think of your expat home, what comes to mind?
Whether it is thinking about Sydney or thinking about Australia I always think of the book ‘In a Sunburnt Country’ by Bill Bryson. His stereotypes about the country, the culture, the politics, the sports history and more is so spot on.
I first read the book before ever setting foot in Australia, and I have read it twice since living here. Whether having a Prime Minister who was lost at sea while swimming, to Bryson’s commentary on cricket. It never stops being incredibly funny or infinitely true!
Can you share your best local/insider tip about where you live?
In Sydney, there is a suburb for EVERYONE. So, when you move there know what you are looking for. If you are looking for nightlife, you might choose Newtown. If you love the beach, look at places like Manly and Bondi. If you want more of the city life you can always opt for somewhere like Darlinghurst or Surry Hills.
The more you think about what you want and choose where you live based on that, the more you will probably fall in love with your new home.
Better yet, so many of these suburbs are a reasonable commute from the Central Business District, whether by ferry or train!
If you could give one piece of advice to people looking to live in Sydney what would it be?
Do it, there will never be a perfectly right time to make a move across the globe. And you never know how much it could change your life. It certainly completely changed mine!