Hi! I’m Lilly. I’m an American girl from Boston, and I just arrived in Australia on a work & holiday visa this month. Having never lived abroad, figuring out a new city and country has been a challenging, humbling and hilarious experience. Friends were nice enough to share tips and info from their time here in Oz, but even so, I’ve had no shortage of surprises. Here are a few from my first two weeks here in Sydney.
1. You have to apply for an Australian tax file number (TFN) in order to get paid.
For work & holiday people like me, you can’t receive your first paycheck without a TFN. It’s basically your social security number here in Australia. The application is quick. You only need your passport, visa and a mailing address, but it can take up to five weeks for you to receive it. It’s best to do it before you arrive once you’ve figured out a mailing address. Otherwise, you can try to find a place that’ll pay you cash while you wait for your TFN. 🙂
2. Look to the RIGHT when you cross the street.
Aussies drive on the left side of the road. If you come from a country that drives on the right, make sure to always look right when crossing the street… despite your natural tendency to do the opposite. V important.
3. There are not that many Americans in Australia.
I didn’t come to Australia to meet Americans, but wherever I go, my ears are always perked up for American accents. In two weeks here, I have seen a total of two Americans (one was wearing a Red Sox hat) and they were sitting at a bar outside the Opera House. Even though I’ve picked up some great Aussie slang like “how ya goin?” and “chunder,” I do miss hearing familiar things like “waddup” and “wicked good.”
4. But there are wild street parrots.
So I’m walking to the grocery store one day (something people DON’T do in the suburbs I discovered), and suddenly I hear a squawk coming from a bush in someone’s front yard. I look up and see three of these guys hanging out on a branch above me:
One of them notices me and slowly shuffles into the bush. They’re definitely the type of bird that will poop on you and laugh. Coy little guys.
5. Bank of America charges a 3% foreign transaction fee on all ATM withdrawals.
I was pumped to learn that BoA is a Westpac partner, and all ATM withdrawal fees are waived for BoA account holders at Westpac ATM’s in Australia. So here I was, withdrawing cash willy nilly until I checked my bank account and saw multiple 3% foreign transaction charges BoA had hit me with. I’d forgotten the difference between ATM and foreign transaction fees. I’ll be using only my Chase Sapphire credit card from now on and maybe look into setting up a checking account with Charles Schwab because they reimburse all ATM fees.
6. NAB is the only bank that doesn’t require a monthly minimum deposit.
There are at least four major banks in Australia (Commonwealth, ANZ, St. George and Westpac), but they all require a $2,000 minimum deposit every month to waive their monthly fee. Until I have my job situation sorted out, I’m not sure I can meet that minimum. After a brief moment of panic, I found NAB bank’s checking account with zero minimum deposit and zero fees! And they give you two color options for your debit card: black or pink. 🙂
7. Biking? Not that popular.
Back in Boston, I biked everywhere. Hopping on my bike and navigating the city streets had become a non-issue, and honestly, I almost never wore a helmet. I imagined a major city like Sydney would be similar, and Aussies are like… active people right? To my disappointment, the only people you see on bikes here are serious cyclers. Even though there are dockless bike shares here (ReddyGo and oBike), they aren’t nearly as popular as Hubway in Boston. It turns out cycling laws are really strict in Sydney. The fine for not wearing a helmet is $330. You can even be fined $106 for riding a bike without a bell… booooooooo.
8. UV radiation and skin cancer is no joke.
Apparently, the ozone layer is really thin over Australia. I’ve met 20 somethings who’ve had surgery for skin cancer already. Time to level up on SPF. 😁
9. Bush doofs = Aussie forest raves.
From Wikipedia: “Originating in the Sydney post-punk electronic music scene of the early 1990s, the slang term doof or bush doof refers to a type of outdoor dance party generally held in a remote country area or just outside big cities in surrounding bush or rainforest.” Sounds pretty loose, eh? (what Aussie’s say when something’s lit af.)
10. It ain’t cheap to find a private room near downtown Sydney.
Rent in Sydney is notoriously expensive. Between Boston and San Francisco, I thought I was pretty familiar with pricey real estate. First off, Aussies list rent prices by the week. Scrolling through listings of $200–300/wk, I thought $1,000 per month was expensive but still within the realm of possibility. Pretty similar to rent prices in Boston:
Alright, not too bad. I was feeling pretty good until I saw this:
So by $200/wk for a shared room, they meant a triple… three people in one room. I never even shared with two people back in my college dorm days. Ughhh. Feeling spoiled by all these years of privacy. Better look for some higher paying jobs.
11. Iced coffee = iced latte with ice cream (kind of a supersized affogato).
So in Australia, coffee means espresso. You really don’t find drip coffee served here. Growing up with Dunkin’ Donuts as a staple, imagine my surprise when I find out an “iced coffee” here looks like this:
It’s an iced latte with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I might just forget about the fact that my body doesn’t tolerate lactose…
12. Eggs are sold unrefrigerated.
During my first trip to Cole’s (the Aussie equivalent to Star Market), I was surprised to see eggs sold on the shelf in the baking aisle next to flour and sugar. In the US, eggs are always refrigerated because they are washed before packaging to reduce the risk of salmonella. It turns out that this weakens the shell and actually makes them more susceptible to salmonella infection, so they need to be kept cold. Other countries like the UK don’t wash their eggs, so they can be sold on the shelf unrefrigerated. Australia does wash them like we do in the States, but apparently the types of Salmonella that can contaminate the inside of eggs are not present in Australia, so they can be sold unrefrigerated. Who knows… salmonella free so far!
13. Everything closes early (*except on Thursdays).
Wandering around the city, you’ll notice that everything closes by 6 or 7pm. That’s because wages here are high and some retail stores have to pay their employees overtime to work past 7pm. Thursdays are the exception when stores have extended hours for “shopping day.” As someone told me, it’s good to be a worker here, but not so great to be a consumer. I’ll take it!
14. Australian hip-hop is a thing, and it’s basically 90’s pop music.
So… Aussie hip-hop is its own genre. Hilltop Hoods are the only Aussie hip-hop group I’ve heard of, but there are others like 360, AllDay and Bliss n Eso. They remind me of the simplest of simple 90’s pop rock bands with nods to Weezer, Sum 41 and Smashmouth plus a splash of Lil Dicky.
Overall, Australia’s been a blast and half so far, and I’ve just barely scratched the surface. Going to make my way to Melbourne, Byron Bay and hopefully a few bush doofs over the next few months. 😉
If any of you are considering making the move down here or just visiting, I hope you find this helpful!