Australia attracts expats and immigrants from around the world, and for good reason! I love life Down Under. But over the years, I’ve also realised there are some cons of living in Australia that people should be aware of before moving here.
I arrived in Australia more than ten years ago, and everything wasn’t as I had imagined. I’m still down here, so obviously, I found more benefits than disadvantages of living in Australia. Here’s a list to consider the pros and cons before jumping on the plane.
Pros and cons of living in Australia
Pro: English is the first language
Avoiding the language barrier when living abroad makes meeting people and finding a job easier. You won’t have a language barrier in Australia if you speak English. However, you may encounter a few unusual words as they like to shorten everything and have their slang (“Let’s meet for a barbie in the arvo, mate!”). This is even more true if you’re used to American English, as Australian English is closer to British English.
Con: You’ll be far away from home
Unless you’re from New Zealand or an island in the South Pacific, you’ll be far from home when you move to Australia. Distance from family is often cited as the first disadvantage of living in Australia. Not only is it expensive to visit family, but it’s also almost impossible to get there quickly in case of an emergency.
Pro: You can live in one of the cities with the highest quality of life in the world
You’ll see at least one Australian city in the top results of any
survey or data analysis ranking the best cities in the world by quality of life.
Numbeo’s 2021 quality of life ranking had no fewer than five Australian cities in the top 30, with Adelaide and Canberra ranking first and second. Brisbane was 10th, Perth 18th and Sydney 29th. Interestingly, Melbourne didn’t make it to the top list, although it was ranked 5th in Global Finance magazine’s list of the world’s best cities to live in 2022, where Sydney came 6th.
When I moved from Europe to Sydney, I was charmed straightaway. A job opportunity took me to Brisbane, and it wasn’t love at first sight at all. But it grew on me, and I now love living in Brisbane.
Con: It’s one of the most expensive countries in the world
Both Melbourne and Sydney appeared in the Top 20 most expensive cities in the world in the 2021
Worldwide Cost of Living index by the Economist Intelligence Unit. They ranked ahead of London but were cheaper than New York and Los Angeles, the only two US cities on the list.
However, when you see prices in Australia, they include tax (GST) and there’s no mandatory tipping. It makes life much easier as you know what you’ll pay at the cashier. Well, most of the time: they sometimes add a small percentage for card fees.
What shocked me when I first moved to Australia was the rent. I even thought the weekly rent was a monthly rent! Unfortunately, housing is an increasing problem in all major Australian cities, and inflation has raised living costs and bills.
Pro: The unemployment rate is low, and salaries are high
You’ll be pleased by Australia’s low unemployment rate compared to many European countries. Many say that if you want a job in Australia, you’ll find one. That’s especially true if you’re willing to move and not set on a particular activity.
And even if the job description does not attract you, you’ll likely still be pleased by the salary offer. Life down under is expensive, but the
minimum wage in Australia covers basic lifestyle expenses. Workers do not rely on tips. So entry-level jobs do not necessarily mean you’ll struggle to make ends meet. Con: It can be hard to find your first qualified job
Although there are often many jobs available in Australia, the story of finding your first job can be very different from one industry to the other. It’s even more true if you look for qualified positions.
When you arrive in Australia, your visa situation will often be a drag when you look for your dream job. Priority is usually given to permanent residents and citizens with no working restrictions with their visas and who already have experience (and referees) in the country. Indeed, most employers will prefer candidates with Australian working experience. So, unless you are in an
industry where they lack qualified people, you will have to be a lot better than other candidates to land your first job when you’ve recently arrived from overseas.
Another thing that makes it harder for newcomers: networking works well, and recruitment processes don’t always follow a fair assessment checklist.
Brisbane City CBD
Pro: You can change careers easily
Although it can be hard to get your first job, once you’ve started your career in Australia, you won’t be stuck in one role or industry. Changing careers is common Down Under.
I’ve found that cross-functional skills are always appreciated. It’s not uncommon to meet people who go back to full-time study or study part-time while working so that they can transition to a new career.
Con: Your rights will be limited until you become a permanent resident
For many people, obtaining a permanent visa to stay in Australia is a long and stressful journey. Immigration is tightly controlled, and if you don’t meet the requirements with a high-demand skillset, you may wait many years before achieving a stable visa situation.
Even if you’ve lived in Australia for many years and paid taxes like other residents, you may feel slighted when you’re not treated equally to those with permanent resident status. This was particularly evident when Australia closed its borders during the pandemic. Those without a permanent resident visa were not allowed to return to their homes in Australia and could not benefit from the support provided to residents who lost their jobs.
Buying a property is also considerably more expensive for those who are not permanent residents or citizens.
However, while obtaining permanent residency can be lengthy and costly, the next step towards becoming a citizen is surprisingly straightforward. If you wish to stay in Australia forever and have a high chance of obtaining permanent residency (e.g. skills in high demand), then you’re in luck as the path to citizenship shouldn’t be too difficult.
Pro: Many visas exist to work in the country
Although it’s not always easy to obtain permanent residency, obtaining a visa with working rights in Australia is not as difficult.
If you feel overwhelmed by the
many visa options, you can hire a migration agent to assist you in applying for the appropriate one according to your situation. For example, tourists are not permitted to work in Australia, but many young people can apply for a working holiday visa or work and holiday visa to visit and work in Australia for up to three years.
Visitor visas with working rights do not allow you to work for more than six months in the same company. Those who want to live in Australia long-term will seek
temporary work visas or permanent work visas.
Some people also choose to apply for
a student visa (with limited working rights) to reside in Australia while they complete a degree or certificate.
It’s crucial to understand the working rights allowed by your visa when you live in Australia.
Con: Taxes can be high at the start and impact your salary
When you arrive in Australia, you must obtain a tax-file number (TFN) to give to your employer. The salary you receive in your bank account is net of taxes. And if you’re a
foreign resident for tax purposes (which is often assumed when you’ve just arrived in the country), the taxes can be quite high.
The financial year in Australia runs from the 1st of July to the 30th of June. The start of the financial year is tax return time, and it’s often good news as you’ll receive some money back if you’ve paid too much tax during the year. If you arrived in Australia late in the financial year, it’s highly likely that you were taxed too much.
Pro: You’ll get an outstanding work-life balance
It’s not uncommon for office workers in Australia to leave work at 5 pm (or even earlier for the school run). By law, Australian employees (except contractors) receive 2 weeks’ sick leave and 4 weeks’ annual leave. Australians also have numerous bank holidays that frequently create long weekends.
Con: International travel can be complicated
There’s a lot to see in Australia, so you may not consider international travel when you first get there. But when you’re ready to experience a different country or when you want to go home, living in Australia can make it complicated.
Australia has a few international airports, and it’s easy to explore the South Pacific Islands or South East Asia. There are direct flights to the west coast of the US and Canada. But it’s far away from almost anywhere. So international travel is expensive, and you often waste a day or two just flying to your destination.
Pro: You can go on short adventures
Wherever you live in Australia, you’ll likely find exciting destinations or national parks nearby. The Australian culture has a strong focus on the outdoors, so it’s easy to organise short adventures not far from the city, such as camping, hiking, kayaking, scuba diving, and sailing.
And if you’re up for ticking experiences off your bucket list, you’ll find many opportunities in Australia.
Con: The weather can be extreme
The climate in Australia is often noted as a pro of living in Australia rather than a con, but I find the weather in Australia too diverse to make that comment. If you’re going to Melbourne, the climate won’t be better than in many places in Europe, in my opinion. If you don’t like the heat, you may not enjoy living in Brisbane or Darwin. Sydney has one of the mildest climates in the country, which is comparable to some south-European cities.
So why do I note climate as a con of living in Australia? The
changing climate is increasing the occurrences and intensity of extreme weather events. For example, the country has gone through never-seen-before bushfires and floods in the past few years. Even when you’re not directly affected by these natural disasters, it’s always a shocking and stressful time for the entire community and the local economy. Pro: Lots of nature and native wildlife
Most people think of cute kangaroos and koalas when thinking about Australia, and it’s true, the wildlife in Australia is fantastic. And if you’re up for it, you’ll get a chance to see them all. You don’t even have to go far from cities to spot koalas, kangaroos, and wallabies.
Con: Wildlife and nature can be scary
As much as the cute Australian animals aren’t a cliché, the same goes for all the other not-so-cute creatures we often associate with Australia.
Indeed, crocodiles roam some rivers in the tropics. Giant spiders (and small nasty ones) can sneak into your home. Venomous snakes appear on hiking tracks. Big sharks enjoy the coastal water. Deadly jellyfish like the warm water of North Queensland. The ones pictured above (freshwater crocodile, carpet python, and grey nurse shark) aren’t actually dangerous, but will scare many foreigners! And to be honest, these are not the creatures I’m worried about when I’m in the Australian outdoors.
Midges (tiny flies) and horseflies sometimes make our camping trips a nightmare. Bull ants (gigantic ants that jump and bite) have made us cry on hiking tracks. And we’re always careful not to touch the Gympie-Gympie plant in the rainforest as it’s reputed to give “excruciating pain”.
And I’m most scared of magpies. The birds swoop at runners and cyclists to protect their babies. Unfortunately, you don’t always see them coming, and they can really hurt.
Pro: You’ll live close to the beach
Most Australians live less than one hour away from the coast. They say more than 50% of Australia’s population resides along the east coast of Australia.
The photos above are from three of the most popular beaches in Australia (Bondi and Manly in Sydney and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast). Many of the other beaches look empty.
Con: The sun is dangerous
The risks of skin cancer are high in Australia. In 2020, the country had
the highest overall rate of melanoma of the skin. You can quickly get sunburnt, even in winter or cloudy days. Visitors to Australia quickly learn, often the hard way, that you should always carry – and apply – sunscreen. I’ve chosen to wear long sleeves and long pants to protect my skin from nasty sun rays. Pro: There’s a good healthcare system
The healthcare system in Australia is effective and among the world’s best systems. You’ll find many public and private hospitals in the country, as well as doctors and specialists.
Permanent residents and citizens can benefit from Medicare, a publicly-funded universal healthcare insurance scheme that covers most health services in Australia. The cover isn’t as good as the social security we have in France, as you’ll still have to pay for part of the costs and many extras, but it’s still better than in most countries. Most Australians have private medical cover, and it’s a requirement to obtain visas.
Con: Some health services are costly, and
specialists aren’t the best
Healthcare is not free in Australia. Even with private medical cover and Medicare, Australians and permanent residents still have high out-of-pocket costs to access some health services. It’s even worse for non-permanent residents and visitors. For example, two of my friends chose to fly back to France to go to the dentist as the plane tickets were much less expensive than the quote from the Australian dentist!
Plus, you won’t find the best specialists in Australia compared to some European countries or the US. It’s not a problem for everyday issues. But if you have a complicated or rare surgery, you may find it frustrating if they aren’t trained in the latest techniques.
Pro: The crime rate is very low
Australia consistently ranks among the safest countries in the world. Violent crimes, homicides, physical assaults and muggings are lower than in many countries. It’s safe to walk alone at night in most places. Public safety is paramount, and it is illegal to carry a gun or any weapon in public in Australia without strict permits. We sometimes hear of stolen phones or bags, but it’s not common.
I am a woman in a major Australian city, and I’m not worried about going for a jog when it’s dark or walking back home alone after a night out.
Con: Public transport is expensive
If you’re used to catching trains and buses to move around Europe, it won’t be the same in Australia.
Even a short bus trip across the city is expensive and often unreliable, especially on weekends and evenings. And if you want to go from one major city to another city, you’d better drive or catch a plane than go by train or by bus. Interstate train travel in Australia isn’t a means to an end but an expensive, luxurious journey. Bus travel, although there isn’t anything special or comfortable about it, is not as cheap as you could expect.
Sure, you may not get the quickest nor the cheapest Internet connection in Australia, and some parts of the country remain physically and digitally isolated. But overall, Australia has excellent infrastructure.
You can rely on electricity, water and waste services in populated areas. The network of roads and highways is well-developed, and even if it’s expensive for users, governments keep funding significant public transport projects in major cities to keep up with population growth and reduce the number of cars on the road.
There are also good public infrastructures for education and health.
Con: Lack of history and charm in cities
Australia as we know it is a young country. The first major building on the Australian mainland, the First Government House, was built in 1788. So if you’re into beautiful ancient architecture and charming villages and like feeling history when you walk in a city, you’ll miss this in Australia.
You’ll find a few iconic monuments and beautiful buildings from the late 19th century in Melbourne (the Royal Exhibition Building, Flinders Street Station, The Olderfleet Building) and Sydney (Government House, Town Hall, Saint Mary Cathedral and Queen Victoria Building). But it never makes me feel like I travelled back in time.
The older history of the Aboriginal peoples who have lived on the land for thousands of years is not often visible and not always put forward or respected. You’ll usually need to book tours to better experience this fascinating side of Australian history fully.
Pro: People are relaxed and friendly
It is a culture shock for many people who arrive in Australia. People down under live up to their reputation of being chilled and friendly. Strangers will chat with you at the supermarket or even on the street. And you’ll hear “no worries mate” more times than you can count.
Con: It’s hard to get into the end-of-year festive spirit
Most people browsing articles about moving to Australia are from the Northern Hemisphere. If it’s your case, you may be used to celebrating the end of the year when it’s cold. You probably associate it with a white Christmas or a freezing New Year’s Eve, as often pictured in the movies.
It’s very different in Australia, as the end of the year is also the middle of summer. And summer often means scorching heat in Australia. So, in addition to missing family during this time of the year, many expats miss the festive spirit you find in Europe and North America in December.
Christmas at the beach in Australia
Pro: There are a lot of immigrants and expats
You’re likely to find a community of expats to make you feel closer to home. It means you will feel less lonely during the important moments in your culture, even if they aren’t important for Australians.
According to the
Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2021, 29.1% of Australia’s population were born overseas, and it ranked 9th internationally for the total number of migrants in its population. This has many advantages for immigrants.
I also love that people Down Under are used to accents. If English isn’t your native language, you won’t have a hard time – at least in the cities – being understood.
Con: There are a lot of immigrants and expats
I know I’ve just written it’s a pro. But it doesn’t have only benefits. First, if you’re multilingual, your language skills won’t be a significant advantage in finding a job.
I also find that when you befriend other expats, they often move away, and it can be tiring to make new friends all the time. Making Australian friends isn’t easy. You can quickly fall into the trap of staying among expats and not learning so much about Australian culture.
Pro: You can find delicious food from many cultures
This pro comes hand in hand with having immigrants, but it’s such a big pro that I thought it deserved its own heading. It’s particularly true for Asian food.
Con: Australian cuisine isn’t impressive
It’s good that we can find food from other cultures in Australia because Australian cuisine isn’t that exciting. I’m always surprised by how they love their cheap sausage sizzle at any community event or fairy bread at kids’ parties.
We hear a lot about the Australians’ love for barbecue, but to be honest, their barbecues are very disappointing compared to South African or Texan barbecues (or even French barbecues…). And they sometimes brag about meat pies, but I don’t find them very different from British meat pies (although I’m not the best one to judge, I admit).
Fairy bread Pro: Australian wines and beers
If their cuisine isn’t my favourite, I won’t say the same for their wines. And yes, this comes from a French girl!
Wine and alcohol, in general, are expensive in Australia, but they produce good wines. For example, I really love Shiraz from the Barossa Valley.
If wine isn’t your thing and you prefer beer, you’re in luck too. Australians love beer, and many microbreweries have opened in the country.
Con: Relationship with alcohol
Australians have a particular relationship with alcohol. It’s not an issue if it’s the same in your culture, but if you’re not into drinking, you may struggle to fit in at some social events. Australia has a pub culture that reminds me a lot of the UK.
It’s okay not to drink alcohol, but most people do, and it’s rarely just one drink. And let’s be honest, the company of drunk people can feel tedious after a while when you’re sober.
Pro: They serve excellent coffee
Drinking in Australia isn’t only about wine and beer. They also serve excellent coffee. The coffee culture is a surprise for many when they arrive in Australia. You’ll be presented with a long list of choices, with different kinds of milk and sizes available. Baristas are often well-trained to serve beautiful and tasty coffee.
And if you prefer a refreshing drink to beat the summer heat, they also sell iced coffee in most places.
Con: Everything closes early
Unfortunately, you may also be surprised that most cafés close around 2 pm. So if you want an afternoon coffee, you’ll have to go for a not-so-amazing one. And if you want to hang out with people in the afternoon, you’ll often need to head to a bar.
In many places, restaurants close early, much earlier than in southern Europe. This is because Australians get up early to enjoy the first sun rays of the day (which come at 4 am in Queensland in summer…), so they often have dinner early to avoid staying up too late.
Pro: It’s a great country for an active, healthy lifestyle
When I arrive at work in the morning, it’s not rare that my colleagues have already enjoyed their day for hours. Many go to the gym, for a run, cycle or walk their dogs before work.
Australians spend a lot of time outdoors. Outdoor sports are very popular; people love to hang out on the beach or have barbecues in a park. Speaking of parks, it’s fantastic to have facilities like free gas barbecues in public spaces.
Con: Artists don’t often tour there
Australia doesn’t always make it on the list of artists’ worldwide tours. So if you’re used to seeing stars on stage regularly, you’ll have to let this go when you come to Australia. You will have opportunities to see local artists, but international stars are more rare.
Pro: The education system is well-regarded
Research shows that Australia has among the most educated young people. And a few Australian universities consistently rank among the top 50 universities in the world. Admittedly, the campuses aren’t as imposing as those in the USA, but they are much bigger and wealthier than French universities.
However, universities in Australia are not free, and they can be pretty expensive for international students. The Federal Government pays part of most university degrees, making them cheaper for Australian and permanent-resident students.
Still, Australia is a popular destination for international students, especially from China and other Asian countries. It has the world’s highest ratio of international students per capita. On average, more than a quarter of students in an Australian university are international students, which is quite high compared to other countries’ standards. And I’ve heard from American and French students that Australian universities baby their students, often making it easier to achieve good grades.
Con: It’s expensive to have kids
I don’t have kids, so I’ll base this comment on what my friends have told me.
Childcare in Australia is so expensive that it’s not uncommon for a parent to stop working and look after the kids for financial reasons. When kids grow up, many parents enrol them in private schools, which can also be quite expensive. Most public schools in Australia are not as highly regarded. Extra-curriculum activities don’t come cheap either.
Pro: Good air quality
Although you may still end up in a traffic jam at peak hour during school pick-up, traffic in Australian cities is nothing like traffic in the major cities around the world. This is reflected in the air quality, which is generally impressive in Australia, except during bushfires. The country has the world’s cleanest air across the Bass Strait.
Con: High carbon footprint
Keeping your carbon footprint down in Australia can be challenging. The country has one of the world’s highest CO2 emissions per capita. However, efforts are underway to reduce household footprints. For example, Australia’s electricity generation sector is gradually shifting from its historical reliance on coal to a more diverse mix that includes renewable energy sources.
However, the size of the country and its isolation make it hard to maintain a low-carbon lifestyle, particularly when your family lives abroad and you enjoy traveling.
Is living in Australia worth it?
Absolutely. Australia is a fantastic place to live, even for foreigners. There aren’t only advantages to living in Australia, but they outweigh the disadvantages. I love the climate, work-life balance, safety and the wide range of outdoor activities that I can enjoy every weekend.
If living in Australia is that good, why do people leave Australia?
Even though living in Australia is great, some people still choose to leave. Among the people I have met who left Australia, many struggled to obtain a stable visa situation or wanted to be closer to family. I rarely met people who just didn’t like life Down Under.
How is living in Australia?
Living in Australia isn’t suitable for everyone, but it’s the perfect place for me now that I have my permanent residency. I enjoy the advantages of living in Australia, such as the warm climate in Brisbane, feeling safe, the excellent work-life balance that allows me to have fun every weekend and take regular holidays, and the omnipresent nature and outdoor activities.
However, I know some of my expat friends have struggled with being so far away from home or the uncertainty of their visa situation before obtaining permanent residency. It can also be stressful to experience first-hand the increasing impacts of natural disasters, with floods and bushfires becoming more extreme every year.