Melbourne, Australia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/18/17
Personal Experiences from Melbourne, Australia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I've lived in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, and Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic).
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
Sacramento, CA. It's a 14.5-15 hour non-stop flight to LAX from MEL, then about a one hour connecting flight to get home.
3. How long have you lived here?
Just over one year.
4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Diplomatic mission (U.S. consulate)
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
We have lived in two locations: consulate staff who are single or have a partner but no children, or one young child, are typically assigned to an apartment in the downtown area. We lived in a city apartment for the first year. Families usually get a single-family home or a townhouse with a very small yard.
Housing sizes are probably average. Our apartment was a 3-bed, 2-bath, about 1600 sf. The house we are currently in is a bit bigger, just over 1800 sf.
All of the housing is modern (built within the last 20 yrs). The city location is about a 30 min commute to the office, via tram or bus. Almost no one drives to work because public transit is great and parking is expensive. The homes are in the southeastern suburbs of Brighton and Hampton, really lovely areas that are some of the wealthiest suburbs in Melbourne. Close to the beaches, parks, nice schools, shopping areas, etc.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Everything is available. Cost is comparable to the U.S. Just remember based on the exchange rate, you're getting a 20-25% discount. Australian produce is high quality and plentiful. Australia is very proud of its agriculture industry and for good reason. You will see a few imported products from California (my home state) such as dates.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
There are some American grocery items that are hard to find here but if you are craving something, you can always have it shipped to the DPO.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Too many to mention! Melbourne is a foodie paradise...literally. Any kind of cuisine you want, you can find here, and there are delivery services like Foodora and Deliveroo. My favorite meal to eat out is breakfast (brekky or brekkie in Aussie slang). Australia does breakfast very, very well. And the coffee...they are very particular about their coffee!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Be on the lookout for spiders wherever you are (even in the office we have found big Huntsman spiders!) Possums are an issue if you live in the suburbs or anywhere there is foliage. They are pests but you can't abate them because they are a protected species.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
The DPO at the U.S. consulate. AusPost for work-related mail, not always reliable.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
It's available but you'll pay. Babysitting usually starts at A$20/hour but many will charge A$25/hour. We were lucky to find someone who only charged A$15/hour, but that is actually below the minimum wage here, which is about A$17.40. For cleaning - expect to pay the same rates. We are back to cleaning our own house again after having very affordable full-time help in the Dominican Republic.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Tons of gyms and every type of sport you can imagine. Aussies are very competitive and really into sports. One major fitness chain is FitnessFirst. Most apartment buildings have a 25 meter pool and fitness facilities.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
Yes, we almost always use credit cards. ATMs are plentiful, all of the major banks have branches everywhere. It is safe but like anywhere, be aware of your surroundings, especially at night. There are some limitations to using American credit cards because here they have a more advanced technology called PayWave. When you use your card, you must insert it (chip end) and then press "enter." You'll get used to telling vendors to do that. Many times you'll need to sign, and sometimes you need to tell vendors - they are not accustomed to having to ask for signatures because the Aussie cards don't require that.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
Any denomination you can think of.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
Speaking English is one of the nice things about being in Australia! You will pick up some of the local slang as you go along. Accents can be difficult to decipher but you will become accustomed to them.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
There are some issues with accessing public transit but they are improving that. Should not be a major issue compared with other cities around the world. Not the best but not bad either.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Safe, yes. Affordable - relatively. You'll buy a myki public transit card for A$6 and use that for all of your tram, train and bus trips. You can "top up" with money or buy a pass. The daily max is A$8.40. A two-hour trip is A$4.10. Taxis are not cheap: use Uber to save money.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
You cannot bring your American left-hand drive vehicle, unless you are a member of the military. If you want a car, you'll have to buy it here. I would suggest a smaller car with good fuel efficiency because gas is expensive and a small car will be easier to maneuver and park. The car purchase and registration process is lengthy and can be expensive, but post can help you and diplomats are exempt from some of the fees.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes, ADSL2 is available, with the national broadband network (NBN) being rolled out now. We noticed no difference between ADSL and NBN speeds. Cost is probably similar to what you'd pay back home ($A70/month or so). TPG and Telstra are two major companies, there is little difference in the service. We go with TPG because they offer unlimited data. Installation can take up to two weeks.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Telstra is the Australian telecom giant and you can't go wrong with them. The Consulate uses Optus, I have had no problems with either. Definitely get an Australian SIM and plan and use it in your unlocked phone. Phones are way more expensive here but the selection is probably the same as in the U.S.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
We don't have a pet but there are vets everywhere. It's hard to bring pets into Australia but people do it. Or they buy pets here.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
There are some WAE jobs available at post but right now there is a hiring freeze and EFMs can't get jobs. There is a bilateral work agreement but getting a job locally is harder than it might seem because many places will prefer to hire Australians or people who will be here more permanently. Local salaries are high, minimum wage is A$17.40/hour and some LES staff at the U.S. consulate make a lot more than entry-level officers do.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Many volunteer opportunities are available through various organizations and churches.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
This varies depending on your role and what you are doing. Business formal in government or corporate business, otherwise a lot of people seem to dress very casually.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Not really, I feel very safe here. But of course you need to keep your awareness at all times and hold on to your bag/purse.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
No health concerns. Medical care is excellent. I don't know of any conditions that would require medical evacuation. Australia has world-class health care professionals and facilities.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
Seems good, I'm not aware of any issues, but Australia does have some of the world's highest allergy rates (I don't have allergies so cannot speak to this). The climate is dry in summer and winter.
4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
The winter is quite long but there is a good amount of sunshine on even the coldest days. But the winter weather is colder than I had expected.
5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Dry all year long, mild and temperate for the most part. Rain happens at any time and often when you aren't expecting it. Melburnians say that you get four seasons in one day here, and that is true. The weather changes hour to hour. Be prepared with an umbrella and sunnies (sunglasses)!
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Children here will attend the local schools, which are very good. If you are assigned to post, make sure you get on a waitlist ASAP. Wesley College is a private co-ed school right next door to the Consulate. Other neighborhoods are close to good schools like Brighton Grammar (boys), Firbank (girls) and Haileybury (co-ed). Public (government) schools are good as well, the better ones probably have waitlists too. Be sure to look into schools ASAP if you have children. Younger children can attend an Early Learning Center or daycare. They vary in quality and most are very expensive.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
One of my colleagues at post has a special needs child who attends a school nearby. I believe that any children with disabilities will be catered for here.
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Yes, yes and yes. They cost up to A145/day but that will include meals. Our experience has been mixed. The ELC programs are unstructured and children kind of run amok without much discipline and no consequences, which causes problems at home. Schools offer before and after school care at a cost. We pay an extra A$50 per day if we need to send our son to before and after school care. Some of the private schools have ELCs which offer a more structured program (for example, Brighton Grammar). I would recommend this over an ELC if you have an intelligent child who needs more stimulation and structure during the day.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes. Every suburb has a community/rec center with lots of sports and activities available. Your kids can learn to play "footy," soccer, tennis, rugby, cricket, whatever.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge, seems good. Living here is very similar to living in the US (but with better coffee, breakfast restaurants and way better public transit).
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Some people meet friends at the gym, or get introduced to people by others. There is an American Womenss Association that organizes events at Halloween, Easter, and Thanksgiving.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes, yes, yes. Good for everyone because it's just an amazing place with tons of things to do regardless of your situation in life.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, but I cannot speak to this from my own experience.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
It's a very multicultural society with many Asians (esp Chinese) living here. There are some issues but most people are accepting of it and thing it's positive. Gender equality is an issue in Australia but expats probably won't notice it. Domestic violence rates are very high here.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Beautiful parks and green open spaces, the beaches, nice museums and lots of activities for young children. So many trip options are available. Get out and explore all that Melbourne and the surrounding areas have to offer.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
If you have young children, I recommend buying annual passes to the zoo and the museums. Visit the botanic garden (free) and explore the beach communities in warmer months.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes, Melbourne is Australia's "fashion capital." Many Australian clothing designers have boutiques here. You can also find some Aboriginal art. Clothing and shoes tend to be expensive but if you are looking for deals you can find them at Target, Kmart and Big W (think children's clothing and shoes).
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Speaking English, safe environment, parks and playgrounds, sporting and entertainment events, public transit, relatively clean streets and good air quality, great shopping, fresh produce and excellent selection in grocery stores, traffic is not too bad and drivers typically are civilized and follow rules.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
Yes!! Melbourne is the world's most livable city in the world for six years running and there are many reasons for this.
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
American left-hand drive car
3. But don't forget your:
4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?
Just travel guides so you can make the most of your time in this amazing, beautiful city and country.
5. Do you have any other comments?
This is probably the best place I'll ever live and I'm making the effort to appreciate every day of my two-year assignment.